Update, December 8: The same homicide detective is now bickering with Anonymous hackers over the dead-body photo and the massive raid of Occupy L.A. (Yes, it's as good as it sounds.)
Update: The LAPD says there is an “ongoing investigation” of Detective Sal LaBarbera's activity. But the detective says “that's the same exact photo the news folks would have taken.” More at the bottom. See also: “Watts Gang Rivalry Heats Up: Shooting Suspect Kicks Over Victim's Memorial, Reports 'Twitter Cop'.”
Originally posted October 14 at 1 p.m.
Local arts blog LA Taco is fuming this afternoon over the “callous” Twitter activity of LAPD Homicide Detective Sal LaBarbera. (As of December 2007, according to the Los Angeles Times, La Barbera was “a 20-year homicide veteran who heads the Watts homicide squad in LAPD's South Bureau.”)
LaBarbera is certainly active on Twitter — throwing out RTs, #FFs and hashtags like he was born to the social-media generation. (The detective is also big on @ing journalists from local news stations and the Times.) His handle on the medium is pretty impressive for a weathered murder cop…
… and right out ahead of other police departments' slow struggle to incorporate social media into their investigative work.
But there's a fine line with law enforcement. Given the sensitivity and privacy-infringing nature of their jobs, they're often expected to remain poker-faced and stoic in the public eye. Even though their work happens out in the open, where everyone can see it or snap a smartphone pic, a different standard is put to them — almost as if they've signed doctor-patient confidentiality agreements with the victims and criminals in their daily sphere.
LaBarbera has just over 1,400 followers (though his profile is public anyway). LA Taco has taken particular offense to the following blast, which the detective sent from the scene of a South L.A. shooting:
According to City News Service, 32-year-old Oscar Arevalo was shot dead that day on the sidewalk, in the 10600 block of Wilmington Avenue, around 9 a.m. Police have since announced that they believe two gang-affiliated suspects walked up to him, delivered the fatal bullets and ran away. They're still on the loose.
LaBarbera wasn't necessarily wrong to Tweet the photo — he's just a guy on the job, and working in Watts, he sees this stuff every day — but social-media shorthand, when juxtaposed with a tragedy like this, does seem a little sick and strange.
Maybe we're just not used to it yet. We were pretty weirded out when our teachers all joined Facebook, too, but it's since become a norm.
However, as a homicide detective, LaBarbera has opened himself up to extra scrutiny. LA Taco notes the difference in tone between his reaction to just another South Bureau homicide and the Seal Beach shootings:
It's natural for a veteran gang cop to desensitize himself to all the crossfire. But once that attitude is posted to the unforgetting/forgiving Internet, it all becomes very real.
(We called the South Bureau to get LaBarbera's take on the “cops on Twitter” topic; we're waiting for a call back. When we told the officer on the line what we were writing about, he chuckled and said that LaBarbera is certainly a “prominent” Twitter user.)
What do you think? Is Twitter the police radio of the future? Kind of like Venice311's unabashed feed — poking fun at hoodlums and making light of crime — but from the thumbs of the “protect and serve” set we like to pretend is so neutral, so superhuman.
Update: LaBarbera says he sees no problem with the photo, or with his Twitter activity in general. Plus, he explains, he mostly uses Twitter for “fun stuff” — talking to friends, etc. (And he's right about that. One of our favorites: “#OccupyLA. I think I saw Elvis.”)
The detective says thousands of cops do the same. “I see them all over the country. The TV show 'The First 48' puts out more stuff than we do.”
Update: LAPD media relations will only say, “unable to comment due to on going investigation of this.” An LA Weekly commenter called For Rich seems to think officers received a “special order” against using “personal cameras or devices” at crime scenes, but we haven't been able to confirm that.
Meanwhile, after speaking with LaBarbera further, it seems to us that his intentions were mostly to draw more attention to the innumerable, often faceless gang murders he investigates throughout South L.A.
Though some might see the photo as intrusive — not the kind of thing a law-enforcement official should be sharing with his friends and followers — LaBarbera maintains he did so out of sensitivity, not insensitivity. From CBS2, who picked up the story:
In hindsight, the detective told Fadel he might have one regret. He said, he hoped the message he has been trying to get out regarding gang violence would not be lost in the controversy of a single photo.
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