Was NYPD’s Elmo Arrest Tweet in Poor Taste?

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Just last week, the New York Post reported that the NYPD now has a handbook for officers who use the department’s Twitter account, advising them to use “tasteful humor” to gain followers. Their first jab at comedy, however, may have missed its mark.

On Tuesday, the Twitter account for NYPD Midtown South posted a picture of an unmasked Elmo performer on her knees, with the caption “Just another day in Midtown South. Elmo arrested in Times Square.”

According to a local ABC affiliate, the woman was 37-year-old Rosa Sanchez from Clifton, New Jersey. She was arrested in a sting operation after 10 plainclothes officers posed with her for a photo. When she demanded payment, she was handcuffed and charged with aggressive solicitation. Although the NYPD’s tweet has over 100 favorites and almost 300 retweets, several news stories have called it public humiliation.

Twitter can play a make-or-break role in creating an image for a modern company or organization, and the NYPD is definitely in need of an image makeover. Stop and Frisk hasn’t won them many fans, nor has the recent strangulation death of Eric Garner.

The NYPD has also faced several major setbacks on social media, most notably the ill-fated #myNYPD hashtag. The department likely hoped Twitter users would post sentimental pictures with NYPD officers. Instead, the hashtag was hijacked by members of Occupy Wall Street, who posted every photo they could find of police manhandling people. It went viral, but not for the reasons the NYPD was hoping.

The new humor angle may not do them any favors either. “We don’t know where exactly embarrassing someone arrested for panhandling in a sting operation falls on the “tasteful” scale,” Laura Stampler wrote on Time.com, “But there you go.”

The arrest is in line with a recent crackdown on costumed characters in Times Square, who are currently allowed to accept tips but not demand them. A bill is currently in the works that may require each costumed performer to pay a $175 licensing fee.

But even though the tweet is “current,” it still comes off as alarmingly tone deaf. “Surely the NYPD’s Twitter stream will be keeping followers up-to-date if things with Hello Kitty get out of line,” Stampler joked on Time.com.

Perhaps to their credit, a later tweet reads “Thanks to Deputy Commissioner (DCCP) Herman for chairing a meeting with the costumed characters in Times Square” and features a photo of officers conversing with costumed character on Times Square’s famous red stoop.

It may not be funny, but at least it’s not at someone’s expense.

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