Touting its move as "progressive" and "we believe unprecedented," a Maryland police department is planning to live tweet a prostitution sting. "We won't tell you when or where, other than it's somewhere in the county sometime next week," the Prince George's County Police Department teased on its website Thursday.
Prince George's County police spokeswoman Julie Parker, however, defended the planned tweet session to HuffPost as "just another step" in opening up the department's operations to the public.
"We've spoken with attorneys, and basically once someone is taken into police custody, the information is public," she told HuffPost, dismissing civil liberties concerns. "If you wrote to me and said, 'I need to get a list of the people who were arrested in your county for crimes X, Y and Z,' that is public information that I could share with you."
The police department originally chose to illustrate its announcement of the live tweet plan with a photo of a police officer leading away a zip-tied woman. But Parker said the sting is only supposed to target johns. Shortly after HuffPost emailed Parker asking why a picture of a woman was being used to illustrate a sting against the usually male customers of prostitutes, the photo was removed from the department's website.
"We removed the photo because we didn’t want anything to detract from our mission, which is sharing with our community our officers’ efforts to arrest criminals who solicit prostitutes," Parker explained.
The picture is still up on the police department's Twitter feed.
Information that the police could share with the public is very different from information that they proactively tweet at the public, of course, but Parker said she views the tweeting as not much different than a traditional ride-along in a police car.
"Basically, rather than having the traditional media tell the story for us, we are telling our story," she said.
The specific rationale for live tweeting the sting, Parker said, is that the department looks at prostitution "not simply as prostitution -- that crime has the potential and very often leads to other crimes. If you think of marijuana as a gateway drug, you can think of prostitution as a gateway crime."
She said that along with the names and cities of arrested alleged customers, the department may tweet either mugshots or photos of arrests after they occur.
As to how they will decide which suspects' photos to actually tweet, Parker said, "I guess that will be a judgment call on the day of. You don't know how these things are going to pan out until you're at a particular location. Every sting is different and we'll take it as it goes."