SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- An attempt at humor goes horribly wrong for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. A tweet, which has since been deleted by the department, playfully offered to take people with outstanding warrants to jail as a Valentine's Day gift.
This tweet was posted, then purged by the agency on Tuesday. It implored people with outstanding warrants to stop by and get a free lift to Main Jail. It read, "Didn't get a last minute gift for your significant other and have an outstanding warrant? Say no more, stop by our Records Division for a quick warrant check and a free lift to the Main Jail!" with an accompanying heart emoji.
The agency's post was met with swift social media backlash by many, including the South Bay civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug.
"I think we were all pretty appalled at not only how obtuse and tone deaf the message was, but at how cruel it was and how heartless it was," Silicon Valley De-Bug coordinator Raj Jayadev told ABC7 News. "Also, how revealing it was that the sheriff's office intentionally put something out for the public to receive, and they thought that it would land well, that this was a good reflection of their character and their ethic."
After deleting the tweet, the sheriff's office responded by apologizing for their caption. Tweeting in part, "The Sheriff's Office is dedicated to providing the community of Santa Clara County with the utmost professionalism and the initial caption did not meet our standards." Tagging Silicon Valley De-Bug.
"The offense wasn't that they put it out, the offense was that this is the way they think," Jayadev said.
CSU East Bay Communications professor Dr. Nolan Higdon touched on the sheer reach of social media, especially for law enforcement agencies whose actions are already widely criticized.
"I think the community certainly is asking those questions. But I think, or I hope, inside the department, they're also asking those questions - some very basic questions about social media messages," Dr. Higdon shared. "What was the goal of this tweet or message? And judging by the reaction that it received, did you achieve that goal or did you alienate some of the very members of the community that you hope to engage with what the department is doing?"
He continued, "If that's the case, where you have alienated these people you hope to get engaged or be supportive of the department, I think there's a lot that needs to be changed in terms of messaging because clearly this missed the mark."
Critics are coming after the sheriff's office for making light of incarceration.
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"It's one thing for these officers to crack these jokes behind the walls or to each other. But this is them deliberately putting out a message that reflects on who their character is, and their perception of the community and their role in this community," Jayadev said.
However, there are others coming to the department's defense.
One user posted publicly, "It was fine. People are way too sensitive. Maybe people shouldn't get into a situation where they have warrants."
Higdon said while there is certainly room for humor, there's also added responsibility for such agencies.
"On the one hand, I think users would be wise to remind themselves that whatever they post on social media is forever," Higdon told ABC7 News. "I also think the rest of us in the community, and other social media users should be charitable in giving people the principle to sometimes be forgiven for what they've done, or given an opportunity to explain what they've done or rectify a situation they've created."
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"It's ultimately up to the community to decide whether or not they think the department is being good faith in their apology and their attempts to explain what transpired here," he continued.
Jayadev explained, "This wasn't a flippant message by some correctional officer that happened to have their phone. This was a project by a communications department of the sheriff's department. That meant that there were all these different people and different steps that took place in order to actualize this tweet."
He described, in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols, "In the realization of the harms of incarceration, our county has really tried to make a larger effort around decarceration, around removing law enforcement from interactions that should be dealt with by mental health experts or substance abuse experts. And this is an old institution that has showed its natural tendencies to look at community as people that they just want to fill in the jails in Santa Clara County."
ABC7 News reached out to the sheriff's office who directed us back to the apology the department publicly tweeted on Valentine's Day.
"I really want to drive home this point that I think the situation really should remind us that humor is very, very important. We shouldn't be a humorless society. But we should be cognizant of when we use humor and make sure we use it in the right context," Higdon said. "Because it can be interpreted in ways that may work against the goals. And in this case, the goals of the department. So really use humor judiciously, especially in online spaces."
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