On the same afternoon St. Paul police officials visited a local mosque to apologize for a culturally insensitive picture of one of its officers, another photograph circulated on social media of possibly a second officer dressed like a Somali woman.
The St. Paul Police Department is now also investigating the second photo, in which a man dons a long hijab favored by some Muslim women at what appears to be a Halloween party from October 2010.
Police Chief Tom Smith ordered the investigation after receiving an anonymous tip in an email Thursday, said spokesman Howie Padilla. Smith has also called for additional cultural training for the department as early as next month, but it is unclear if this week's incidents are what prompted the chief's decision.
The photo was published Friday on Twitter by Mukhtar Ibrahim, a Somali-American journalist from St. Paul and former MPR News intern now working in Washington, D.C.
Ibrahim said an anonymous source tweeted him the photo Wednesday evening, and told Ibrahim the image came from the officer's Facebook page. It shows a man sporting a long, orange hijab at what appears to be a Halloween party. Ibrahim said it appears as if the man is wearing brown face paint. The picture and its apparent use of blackface stunned City Council Member Melvin Carter, the council's sole African-American.
"The actions of the officers depicted in these photos are offensive and embarrassing," Carter said in a statement. "Mocking culture, skin color & religion for a laugh may seem trivial, but any behavior that violates the sacred, essential trust between our officers and residents is reckless and inexcusable."
Although police have yet to confirm whether the man in the photo works for the department, they say such a gaffe would violate the code of conduct for sworn officers, which requires them to act in a way that does not discredit the officer, the department, or the city as a whole.
"One of the things the chief has been adamant about in general, but specifically this week, is that officers are held to a standard, whether they're on duty or off duty," Padilla said.
This is the second time in a week that a St. Paul police officer has been accused of mocking the conservative dress of some Muslim women. Officer Robert Buth apologized Tuesday for a picture taken of him while he was wearing a hijab and Target name tag, apparently posing as a female Muslim Target employee. Buth said it was taken at a Halloween party while he was off duty.
"I sincerely regret that the image, which was never intended to become public, may have been viewed to be insensitive to the Muslim community," Buth said in a statement.
Reaction to Buth's photo has ranged widely in the Somali-American community. While some found his picture humorous, others call it racist. A group of young community members has spoken out against the photos, saying the clothing the men were wearing as a spoof is culture, not costume.
The St. Paul police department has made efforts in recent years to engage with Somali-Americans to help win their trust.
And today, Padilla and Assistant Chief Rob Thomasser paid their respects at the Islamic Da'wah Center after Friday prayers to offer their apologies in regard to Buth's photo.
The police also assured the hundreds of Muslim worshippers that the department wants to learn from the incident, Padilla said.
"We're all dealing with humans, and humans sometimes make mistakes," he said. "What can we do to best ensure those errors don't take place again?"