At least two police departments in New Brunswick have begun using social media to get the public’s help in finding people with outstanding warrants.
They call it Warrant Wednesday.
Each week, the Woodstock and Kennebecasis police forces publish a list of people’s full names, and sometimes the fines or jail time they owe, on Facebook.
Generally, these warrants are for people who have been convicted of something like a driving offence, but haven’t paid a fine or done their jail time, or haven’t appeared for their court date.
Woodstock has been doing it since November 2022, while Kennebecasis began the practice in January.
“This is just a new approach when we’ve tried everything, people are avoiding police, and we think we owe it to the public to execute these [warrants],” said Insp. Mary Henderson of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force.
Henderson said in the first three weeks of January, they’ve resolved warrants with 12 people, some of whom had more than one warrant attached to their name.
So far, the department has posted lists of people convicted of impaired operation of a vehicle, driving with a suspended licence and with outstanding arrest warrants.
Warrant Wednesday could cause harm, says ethicist
Timothy Christie, a philosophy professor at the University of New Brunswick who writes about ethics, doesn’t believe Warrant Wednesday is fair.
He said people are held accountable for their actions through the court system and receive penalties such as fines or jail time.
“They definitely deserve those things because they went through a process in court, where that was what was determined, and it was determined as an appropriate sanction,” Christie said.
“Nowhere in that sanction did it include public shaming.”
Henderson, however, said Warrant Wednesday is not about shaming people.
“It is a very public venue that people get to look at, but does that outweigh the need to execute these warrants and public safety?”
Christie said that the justice system imposes punishments on people so they can correct themselves and reintegrate into society.
“This thing that the police are doing strikes me as not helping people reintegrate into society in a meaningful way, but actually will make things more difficult for them,” Christie said.
He said life may be more difficult because being named on Facebook could impact someone’s reputation.
“[Warrant Wednesday] doesn’t contribute to any of the long-term goals we have that we use for punishing people,” he said.
Henderson disagrees with his assessment.
“I don’t think someone shouldn’t be able to reintegrate into society,” she said. “They’ve been given ample opportunity by our officers [to resolve their warrants].”
She said that if someone’s warrant is resolved, their name is taken off the Facebook post.
Criminologist sees value in Warrant Wednesday
Mary Ann Campbell, director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at UNB Saint John, said police are part of the community and therefore some of the work they do requires the support and aid of the community.
And she thinks this is something that could work.
“I suspect it will be more effective than not. So having a list out there, there’s probably at least one person on that list that someone might call the police about and let them know where they are,” she said.
She added that eliciting simple tips from the public — like a phone call saying someone might be living or working somewhere — can help departments work on other issues.
“Those types of situations can save a lot of taxpayer dollars in allowing the police to apprehend that person quickly. Then they can dedicate their time to other types of criminal matters,” she said.
But it’s not just about posting names. The Woodstock force also includes memes — a visual staple on social media —in its Warrant Wednesday posts.
The Woodstock Police Force did not provide an interview for this story. The force did not respond to a question about its use of memes sent through email prior to the publication of this article.
Campbell said the intent is likely a way to get people to look at the list of names.
“Whether using humour for a serious topic is the best way to go, I think, is something that’s open to interpretation,” she said.
She said it’s important that whoever is making the posts needs to consider them carefully to ensure they don’t miss the mark.