The Oak Bay Police Twitter account came under fire this morning for possibly taking things a step too far.
In a tweet posted on Monday morning, Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties drew a link between items stolen from vehicles left unlocked and fentanyl overdoses in Oak Bay.
The original tweet was later deleted, but stated the following:
“Some think they play no role in the fentanyl crisis. Lets connect the dots: Items were stolen from many unlocked cars in #OakBay last wk. Those items are sold within hrs to buy drugs laced w/ fentanyl. The drug users may die.🤔 Those dots are pretty close. Pls lock your car.”
Many people took to Twitter and Reddit to address the message as a form of victim blaming, and criticized Oak Bay Police for detracting from the conversation about real sources of drug overdose.
“The majority who have criticized the account seize any opportunity to criticize police accounts,” Deputy Chief Bernoties tells Victoria Buzz.
“There are some who have expressed concern who I have clarified the intent [to] and I have taken down the tweet to ensure no further misunderstanding. The message was…to have property crime victims consider what happens to their property when it’s stolen.”
Bernoties clarifies that his original intent was to help people understand that the story doesn’t end with an item being stolen from their vehicle.
“That [item] is sold and turned into drugs quite quickly. I was trying to draw a link so that people understood that the story carries on. Many people have told me they understood,” he said.
“I believe it is naïve to think people who are addicted to opioids will simply overcome their addiction. I believe addiction is a health issue not a criminal one.”
Since the outpouring of criticism on the original tweet and ensuing Reddit thread, the post has been removed and replaced with an apology.
A tweet earlier today re. stolen property being used for drugs was widely misunderstood. Some felt I blamed property-crime victims. When widely misunderstood the communicator needs to reflect. In this case, me. Thus, I deleted it & apologize for causing the misunderstanding.
— Oak Bay Police (@OakBayPolice) November 18, 2019
DCP Bernoties also acknowledges that his original tweet conveyed some insensitivity towards victims of property crimes, but wanted people to consider the overarching impact of theft from unlocked vehicles.
“I think our approach in social media is well known to foster dialogue in the community. The tweets are often provocative or they’ve been described as sassy,” says Bernoties.
“It’s, as you know in social media, people don’t read bland text particularly from police departments so our approach has been to try to be creative and generate dialogue and provoke thought.”
He says theft from unlocked vehicles is underreported in Oak Bay, yet occurs on a daily basis.
Over the course of one evening, police officers in the municipality checked vehicles as part of their Lock It or Lose It program and found around 40 of them unlocked.
According to Bernoties, it is a common misconception that those who seek to steal items from vehicles will simply break in to cars that are locked.
At least in Oak Bay, there are only a handful of cases a year in which vehicles are broken into, and in the majority of those cases, valuable items were left in plain view.