A police chief in Alabama apologized after two officers posed for a picture holding what one of them called a "homeless quilt" — confiscated cardboard signs from people asking for a handout, taped together as a "gift" for their superior.
"Wanna wish everybody in 4th precinct a Merry Christmas , especially our captain," read the Facebook post from the personal profile of an officer with the Mobile Police Department. "Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt!"
From the messages written on the cardboard signs, it appeared many of the signs had been taken from people experiencing homelessness.
The Facebook message, which has since been taken down or made private, was signed, "Sincerely, Panhandler patrol."
A screenshot of the image was posted on Twitter, where it was retweeted more than 1,000 times.
In a statement on Monday, Mobile Police Department Chief Lawrence Battiste apologized for the picture, calling it an "insensitive gesture."
"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 reads. "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. 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."
A spokesperson for the department told BuzzFeed News an administrative investigation has been launched over the officers' actions, which would determine if punitive action, or training, would be recommended for the post.
"The two officers' behavior of taping the signs was definitely immature and insensitive and in now way indicative of the department as a whole and not something that is approved of and practiced," Charlette Solis, spokesperson for the department, said in an email.
Solis confirmed the two officers in the picture were Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier. Both officers will remain on duty and active patrol during the investigation.
People have flooded the department's Facebook page with reposted images of the cardboard signs and posts blasting the department for making fun of the city's homeless population.
In one post advertising the department's "Cookies with a cop" event, where people in the community can meet with officers over a cookie at a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, one user asked, "Hoe does chic file A feel about you guys preying on homeless people then making fun of them on social media."
In another post highlighting a department event where officers take children to buy toys at Target for Christmas, people continued to repost the image in the comments section.
"Doesn't change the fact that y'all are the worst kind of humans," posted one person.
Another person who reposted the photo of the cardboard signs wrote, "No amount of toys for tots will make up for this."