Photo of Cops With Recaptured Killer Slammed as 'Inhumane'

Controversy arises over pic taken in Pennsylvania after Danelo Cavalcante was back in custody
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 14, 2023 6:31 AM CDT
Photo of Cops With Recaptured Killer Slammed as 'Inhumane'
Danelo Cavalcante.   (Chester County Prison via AP)

A group photo of about two dozen officers in tactical gear posing with escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante minutes after his capture on Wednesday in southeastern Pennsylvania drew criticism from policing reform advocates and some members of the public. The moment of the photo was captured by a KYW-TV television news helicopter. It showed the officers and federal agents gathered in a half-circle around the handcuffed escapee for a photo before loading him into an armored vehicle. Policing experts said the celebratory moment after the grueling 14-day search for the armed suspect was inappropriate and dehumanizing, per the AP. But at least one leader of the operation said he wasn't bothered by it.

When asked about the criticism at a news conference on Wednesday, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens focused on the officers' work. "Those men and women work amazingly hard through some very trying circumstances," he said, per the New York Times. They're proud of their work. I'm not bothered at all by the fact that they took a photograph with him in custody." Policing experts said the practice of snapping photos, especially after a successful arrest, isn't uncommon, but it has become more prevalent with the advent of smartphones. While many law enforcement agencies have tried to create conduct guidelines for social media use, including barring posts to personal pages while wearing a uniform or from conducting on-duty activities, experts say those rules don't exist everywhere and are inconsistent.

"From a policing ethics point of view, a police officer taking a picture on the street and putting it on social media or doing it as a celebratory or retaliatory thing is not OK," said Adam Scott Wandt, a public policy instructor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "As an attorney, it is an evidentiary problem being created here, too. It's a dangerous practice for a police officer to create evidence on a scene and not properly turn it over to the prosecutor." The Pennsylvania State Police has a conduct policy covering the use of social media that prohibits posting or forwarding images of state police investigations or operations, or content that depicts the agency's uniform, badge, or other official department gear, without authorization. But it's unclear if the photo Wednesday would be covered under that policy; a message left for a rep for the PSP wasn't immediately returned.

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Photos of Cavalcante after his arrest, with a police dog pinning him down, circulated widely on social media Wednesday. The photos didn't include information about who took them, but they were taken inside the secured perimeter where only law enforcement officers were allowed. For Niles R. Wilson of the Center for Policing Equity and a retired police captain in Newark, New Jersey, these celebratory photos are reminiscent of photos taken during the Civil Rights era depicting police brutalizing people to suppress them. "It is not appropriate. It is not ethical. It's really inhumane," Wilson said. "If I was on the scene as the public affairs officer representing a law enforcement agency, I would have discouraged it," said public affairs expert and former officer Leonard Sipes, though he said he understood the inclination to celebrate after recapturing someone who was armed and dangerous. (More escaped criminal stories.)

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