An Alabama police chief has apologized after two of his officers were caught posing with a controversial "Christmas gift," which garnered criticism on social media.
Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier, two officers with the Mobile Police Department, were shown posing with a "homeless quilt" in a Facebook post on one of the officers' personal profiles, BuzzFeed News reports.
In the post, which was shared on Sunday but has since been deleted, the two men are seen standing with a collection of signs that were purportedly confiscated from homeless people.
"Wanna wish everybody in 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain," the original post read. "Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt!"
americans are insanely evil pic.twitter.com/rl90hz44BZ— ❄️🐐 Goth Ms. Krampus 👹❄️ (@spookperson) December 30, 2019
The post, which was signed, "Sincerely, Panhandler patrol," quickly went viral, and was shared on social media by many users who expressed their outrage.
"A 'homeless quilt' made by the 'panhandler patrol.' The lack of empathy and care is stunning and disgusting," one Twitter user wrote.
"This is not a lack of empathy or care. This is state-sanctioned violence. And these are the trophies of their conquests," another added.
A "homeless quilt" made by the "panhandler patrol." The lack of empathy and care is stunning and disgusting. https://t.co/YBBeUwC20C— Aaron Cynic (@aaroncynic) December 30, 2019
On Monday, Mobile Police Department Chief Lawrence Battiste responded to the controversy, condemning the men's "insensitive" actions.
"As a police department entrusted with serving and protecting our community, we offer our sincerest apology for the insensitive gesture of a Facebook post by two of our officers where they are holding up a homeless 'quilt,' made of panhandling signs," the statement, posted to the department's Facebook page, read.
"Although we do not condone panhandling and must enforce the city ordinances that limit panhandling, it is never our intent or desire as a police department to make light of those who find themselves in a homeless state," Battiste's statement continued. "Rather, our position has always been to partner with our community service providers to help us help those faced with homelessness with hope to improve their quality of life."
BuzzFeed News reported that the department has opened an investigation into the two officers, which will determine if punitive action is necessary. Both McGraw and Olivier will remain on duty while the investigation is underway.
"The two officers' behavior of taping the signs was definitely immature and insensitive and in no way indicative of the department as a whole and not something that is approved of and practiced," Charlette Solis, spokesperson for the department, told BuzzFeed News in an email.
As HuffPost points out, a Mobile resident can be charged with "aggressive panhandling" if they request donations from someone standing in line outside of any commercial establishment. Those charged can then be fined up to $500 or face up to six months in jail.
There were an estimated 3,434 homeless individuals living in Alabama as of 2018, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 540 of those were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.