23 Aug 2014
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Forest Preserve Police Void Facebook-Based Citation

Situation 'handled internally' after woman was cited based on something she posted on a dog park Facebook page.

Forest Preserve Police Void Facebook-Based Citation
After a Patch article drew attention to the issue, sparking criticism from at least one commissioner, the Forest Preserve District of Will County police have voided a citation issued to a woman based on something she posted on Facebook.

Last week, a member of the Whalon Lake Dog Park Facebook group — which is run by pet owners and not affiliated with the forest preserve district — said she got a citation based on a post she made on May 18.

The post in question referred to reports of dogs coming down with kennel cough after visiting the dog park, and read, "I was feeling bad that I haven't bought a pass and been bringing Ginger there but I'm pretty glad I haven't."

After the reported illnesses were brought to the attention of the forest preserve district, the woman received a citation from forest preserve police and a note reading, "It has been brought to our attention that on May 18, 2014 at 8:58 pm, you posted on a social media site that you knowingly entered the dog park without a valid 2014 dog park permit." 

On Wednesday, the citation was voided, forest preserve Lt. Tracy Phillips told the Herald-News.

"In the process of [monitoring the Facebook group], one of our non-police employees saw a comment that they interpreted as stating that the person was in the dog park without a permit," Phillips told the paper, saying the information was forwarded on to forest preserve police, who issued the citation. The page was being monitored for reports of kennel cough, she said.

The dog owner said the post was misunderstood, and simply meant that she was glad she had not brought her dog to the park during the time of the kennel cough reports. She said she did not bring her dog to the park without a permit.

On Wednesday, Will County Forest Preserve Commissioner Steve Balich of Homer Glen took to the Internet to speak out against the citation, saying commissioners were unaware social media posts were being used to issue tickets.

"I was called by a citizen who was so outraged I had to say calm down. The cause of the anger was the Patch," Balich wrote. "I called Don Gould, President of the Forest Preserve and asked what was going on. Don said he just found out about it and agreed with me that writing tickets based on social media is just plain wrong ... I will also make a point of seeing that this invasive policy that pro-ports evidence that won’t hold up in court is not allowed."

Later, Forest Preserve District Executive Director Marcy DeMauro addressed the issue.

"Our staff do not troll through social media sites for the purpose of mining information to issue citations for alleged infractions," DeMauro said in a statement posted online. " ... This action was not sanctioned and was entirely inappropriate. Chief [Robert] Murphy and I are in complete agreement that if we do come across information in this manner, our staff must treat it like any other tip that must be confirmed first before any citation is issued. In other words our officer must actually go to the dog park and see if this individual is in fact using the dog park without a permit.

"This will be remedied and not repeated," DeMauro said.

Phillips said the incident has been "handled internally," according to the Herald-News.

The Whalon Lake Dog Park Facebook page, once an open group, was changed to a closed group this week amid fears that the page was being monitored.

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