On the day the coronavirus claimed the life of a local resident, the Columbia Police Officers Association shared a pro-police group’s post that referred to members of the public as “disease ridden customers.”
About noon Wednesday, the local officers’ union shared a photo and statement by the Facebook group “Police Officer” that reads, “Remember to carry two pens. One for your disease ridden customers and one for you.”
While not made public until later Wednesday afternoon, the city in a press release said a person sick with the virus was taken to the hospital that morning and later died.
The post drew the ire of Columbia Police Sgt. Chris Boyle, who, in a Facebook post of his own, admonished the union, pointing out the post was made “hours” after the person died.
Boyle said he did not wish to comment beyond his post.
In his post, Boyle pointed to executive director Dale Roberts as the person who made the post on the union’s page, writing it was insensitive and did not represent the feelings of Columbia officers.
“He did this within hours of the first Covid-19 related death in Boone County,” Boyle wrote. “I found it highly insensitive, and not representative of the image of a Columbia Police officer.”
While the post was shared on the CPOA page, Roberts deflected the criticism, saying they were the words of the pro-police group and not the union.
He wrote in an email response that his intent was to alert officers to the benefits of carrying an additional pen to thwart the spread of the virus.
“My intent was to get the word out quickly, as everyone has been doing with all things related to COVID-19, that officers should carry two pens to help reduce the potential risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts denied responsibility for the phrasing and said when he looked at it closely he edited to make it appropriate.
The edit simply advises officers to carry two pens, one for them and one for their “customers.”
Boyle posted it was he who contacted the union regarding the post and that it was edited about 15 minutes later. He pointed out it was not the first time officers were at odds with the union over statements made on social media.
“He has embarrassed Columbia officers in the past, and with this post, he did again,” Boyle wrote. “Please, if you see an offensive post on the CPOA facebook page, know that the person who likely posted it is not a cop, and that he posts that stuff without approval of the members.”
Following the death of Michael Brown in August 2014 in Ferguson, the CPOA posted a commemoration of “Darren Wilson Day.” Wilson was the officer who shot the unarmed Brown, which sparked demonstrations in Ferguson and around the nation.
The post drew condemnation by former Police Chief Ken Burton, then Mayor Bob McDavid and other city officials.
“This is not the first time that CPOA has reflected poorly on the brave and dedicated men and women of the Columbia Police Department,” McDavid wrote in August 2015 in a Facebook post of his own.