Police in Wyoming never expected a Facebook post about giving money to panhandlers to go viral.
But when the Cheyenne Police Department's Sunday post was shared more 46,000 times, it sparked about 8,000 comments from across the country -- some supportive of the post and others critical.
The post shows a stack of money and a sign that says “Broke … Need Help … God Bless.” The message from police with the image says the cash belongs to a transient man who was arrested for public intoxication. He had collected about nearly $235 in a few hours.
Those who donated should have given the money to a charity, rather than “feeding someone’s alcohol addiction,” it said.
The comments ranged from support to concerns that officers shamed the man and took his money.
Kevin Malatesta, the spokesperson for the department, told WTSP that in retrospect more detail should have been included in the post. Two days later, the department followed up with more information.
For example, he said that the man would get his money back and that it would not be confiscated by police.
Police assumed the money would feed the man’s addiction because they are familiar with him.
In addition to public intoxication, the man also had been arrested for public urination, refusing to obey commands and having an open container.
“We see this particular individual quite a bit,” Malatesta told KUSA. “It’s somebody we deal with on, I’d say, almost a daily basis. Almost every contact we make, he’s intoxicated. So that’s where that’s coming from.”
The point of the initial post was to inform the public about issues related to the city's transient population and police efforts to help.
“If people are enabling it just by giving them money and we see them being arrested for public intoxication or similar offenses, repeating that cycle, that’s exactly what it is.”
The huge response was surprising.
“What we were anticipating was really just wanting to get the message out about local charities and donating to local charities.”