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EPD's Snapchat SNAFU

Last Friday, Evanston Police Department Chief Demitrous Cook held a news conference to explain that he had accidentally posted about 30 mug shots that were part of an investigation on Snapchat earlier last week and to apologize for the error.

The news conference was not publicized, but reporters from the Evanston Patch, Evanston Review, and Evanston RoundTable attended.

Review reporter Genevieve Bookwalter reported that Chief Cook said a police commander brought the public Snapchat post to his attention and helped him take the photos down. However, during the approximately 90 minutes they were live, followers took screenshots of the list and began passing them around.

Chief Cook told reporters that he compiled the mug shots, many of which were between eight and 10 years old, because he is returning to the Evanston department after eight years working elsewhere. He felt he knew many of the men included in the investigation and requested the old photos to jog his memory.

“These photos were taken to assist me with an investigation and should never have been posted publicly,” Chief Cook said. “There is no excuse for what happened.”

Cicely L. Fleming, 9th Ward Alderwoman told Bookwalter after the conference that she declined to comment on Chief Cook’s actions “out of respect for the people and families involved,” but said she does not agree with mug shots being disseminated for any reason, as “people should have a second chance.”

Bob Seidenberg, a reporter for the Roundtable wrote:

"An emotional Chief, whose career started as a popular foot patrol officer in the City’s predominantly Black community nearly 40 years ago, noted that 'most of the young people in those photographs I’ve known all my life. And I’ve had a good relationship with their parents, and many of the parents have called me and asked, ‘Cook, why are my kids on there?’ And I explained that I made a mistake about it.'

'Most have been pretty good about it,' he said. 'But there have been some, you know, all I could do is apologize because they’re really upset about it.'”

At the press conference, Seidenberg reported, longtime Evanston resident Joseph Henry, who said his grandson was in one of the photographs, noted the goodwill the Chief had built up in the community over the years.

'I have faith that you made a mistake,' he told the Chief. 'And we, as people, we make a mistake we need to forgive them. So, I don’t see why we can’t forgive you for making a simple mistake.'"

You can read the Review's full report here.

Read Jonah Meadows Patch's report here.

Read Robert Seidenberg's report in the Roundtable here.

On Friday, The Citizens' Network of Protection, a nonprofit organization whose goals include promoting racial and economic justice within the legal system, preventing government overreach and abuse in the area of law enforcement, and upholding civil rights within the community, responded to the Snapchat SNAFU.

"This is a type of public shaming of residents who may only have been charged with, but not convicted of a crime and is an abuse of community trust," the statement says.

"When we reached out to the Evanston Police department earlier this week to ask if they have a social media policy, they said no. When we asked if they follow the United States Department of Justice national guidelines on social media use, they said no," the statement continues.

"While we respect [Chief Cook's] attempt to bring some transparency to the matter the City did not post the [news conference] on its website or social media accounts and therefore the public was not aware of this press conference and we could not participate."

The statement continues:

"We are particularly concerned with his claim that 'this was done so he could capture a high-resolution image of these photos for his own personal research into these cases.' He incorrectly claimed that 'Snapchat takes higher-resolution photos than his own smartphone’s camera.' Actually, Snapchat photo quality is significantly lower than the smartphone’s native camera app. A quick Google search will show you that this is common knowledge.

"We disagree with this assessment and question Chief Cook’s explanation of how and why the photos ended up posted on Snapchat.

"In addition to answering these questions about this post by Chief Cook, the Evanston Police Department clearly needs to develop a strong social media policy and train its members." [read CNP's full statement here]

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