The badge mix-up at a Philadelphia cake shop sounded catastrophic. “The customer is upset, the employees are upset, the decorator was in tears earlier, the bakery wants to emphasize how much they care and respect the police,” reported Jaclyn Smith for ABC Philly. 

One might be forgiven for thinking the reaction extreme. According to reports, the customer, Tina Jones, claimed a Main Line bakery tried to smear the Philadelphia Police Department by giving her a cake with a different logo than the one she had requested. Apparently, the original image was deemed too blurry, so they combed the internet and found another, which, as you might have guessed, didn’t match the first. The first image was the standard Philadelphia Police Department badge, reading “Honor, Integrity, Service,” meant as a delicious celebratory for an employment anniversary. The new badge, straight from the Internet, came plastered with not dissimilar words: “Coffee, Corruption, Donuts.”

Now, corruption is commonly associated with the police. Many people on the internet seemed to find this sort of thing funny, but if anyone at the bakery did, they wouldn’t let on. Spokespeople called it “an honest mistake.” The bakery owner did her best to make amends, saying “We’re tired, we’re pushed because of the staffing situation. She looked at the images, she saw the clearest one and she printed it.” Jones was unsatisfied. She had not noticed the discrepancy until it was too late. The police, bibs tied and mouths watering, were getting ready to dig in. “That’s so humiliating to put on someone’s cake who is serving 25 years and in a not-so-easy job,” she said. The reporter Smith tweeted additional details supporting the bakery’s case, re-assuring the public that the “bakery was fully transparent and very remorseful,” attaching a photo of an employee holding a stack of orders to prove the strain they’d been under. Jones was unmoved, even feeling compelled to decline the business’s offer to refund the police. “We are beyond mortified,” the bakery owner wrote on the business’s Facebook page (the post, since deleted, may have inadequately expressed just how mortified). “I have the utmost respect for all law enforcement and so does my staff. We hope you can find it in your hearts for understanding and forgiveness.” As a network of police-friendly media carried the story further, the apologies continued. The owner emailed a comment to the publication Police1, reiterating “We apologize to any and all police officers or friends of those that may have been offended. We all have heavy hearts and are very upset. We own the mistake but it is a mistake.” Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Earlier in the year, Philadelphia Police Chief Danielle Outlaw had tweeted about the same rogue logo after a local NBC television station ran it by mistake. It was no laughing matter, she said. Fast forward and, according to the bakery, an employee thought the logo provided by the customer was too blurry, so they turned to the web. Now, was the ultimate offense the employee’s or the algorithm? The cake indexed a tie between police and corruption, clearly present in the popular (digital) consciousness, which seems to spit back what we put in. Yet the very thought of such an index was too much for Jones: “I didn’t want the money back because I knew if I accepted the money back it was like, ok what you did, and it wasn’t.” The bakery owner sounded a similar note. “We are not the kind of business that would ever, ever disrespect [the police].”

An outlaw speaking up for the badge, a refund refused. Is the protest too much? We have seen the cake. How else might we learn to judge?

Nathaniel is a graduate student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University and lives in Philadelphia, writing a dissertation on policing