Last we checked in with the MBTA Transit Police Department, they were telling a humble, concerned citizen there had been no shady dealings in the Mr. Spaghetti dog-naming debacle. Now, the department’s response to Gawker’s public-records request directly contradicts the reassurance they’d previously given. What are they trying to hide?
If for some reason you haven’t been closely following this extremely important story, allow me to quickly get you up to speed. Earlier this month, the MBTA transit police, which patrols the T, Boston’s public transit system, announced a call for names for its new police dog on social media. The name “Mr. Spaghetti,” proposed by a local comedian named Dicky Stock, appeared to win in a landslide, aided by a campaign of surreal flyers that Stock and his friends and fans posted around the city.
However, the MBTA police announced that the dog’s new name would be “Hunter,” not Mr. Spaghetti. In a tweet, the department claimed that Hunter had been the most popular suggestion.
The more popular names submitted were HUNTER, CHARLIE, TRAX & MR.T#MBTA— MBTA Transit Police (@MBTATransitPD) April 6, 2016
When a Bostonian who prefers to remain anonymous called them out on the discrepancy on Twitter, the department’s official account sent him a private message claiming that there was nothing to be concerned about. Hunter had received a number of votes via text message and Twitter DM, according to the message, which outnumbered Mr. Spaghetti’s publicly available votes. A plausible, if unlikely explanation.
Which brings us to today. J. Patrick Brown, the editor of the Freedom of Information Act-focused website MuckRock, submitted a public records request to the MBTA for all submissions, public and private, to the call for dog names. In response, the department told him that all of the submissions were already online.
Subject: FOIA -MBTA K9 names
Please be advised, to the best of our knowledge NO correspondence exist. All correspondence as it relates to the naming of a K9 can be easily obtained publicly on the internet via our FaceBook and/or Twitter Account. We consider the request closed. Thanks you
Transit Police Department
Boston, MA. 02118
Which is it? First the department claimed to have received votes for Hunter by text message and DM—there would have to have been dozens of them for Mr. Spaghetti to have lost the popular vote—then it claimed that all of the submissions were publicly available on Facebook and Twitter. The department also responded to a previous request from Gawker for all records and communications about Mr. Spaghetti by claiming that no responsive documents were available.
I asked Richard Sullivan, the superintendent of the MBTA police, to clear up the confusion. He told me that submissions to the text message number were not stored, and thus were not available to release. He was also a little rude about it, quite frankly.
“Suggestions received via our Text Line, which is set up to receive anonymous tips, do not get stored,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “I think you are expending an incredible amount time and energy on a non event. Mr. Spaghetti is a fictitious animal, he/she simply does NOT exist. The FB page which started the Mr. Spaghetti issue is also fictitious. The TPD has more important matters at hand like protecting our riding public and maintaining as safe a system as possible then responding to a completely made up issue. Have a good day. The TPD considers your request closed.”