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The force’s official Twitter feed on Monday posted a picture of Carell captioned: “When we have to tell someone their family member has died in a crash.”
In the animated gif image, “The Office” star Carell wears a pained grin while shaking his head and says “this is the worst”.
It followed a deadly weekend when there were nine fatalities on New Zealand’s roads, far more than the average.
The response was scathing, with Twitter users calling it “messed up” and labelling the humorous tone inappropriate.
“I’m sorry it’s difficult for you – but I’m glad you’ve reached the point that you can make light of the worst day of many people’s lives,” one wrote.
Another accused police of being “tone-deaf” and of “social media fail of the week”.
Police initially defended the tweet but soon deleted it and admitted they made a mistake.
“We apologise for the recent road safety tweet,” they posted. “We quickly realised it was wrong & insensitive & it was immediately deleted. Thx for feedback.”
Some people expressed sympathy, saying police had a tough job attending deadly crashes and informing families, while user Rekuja advised: “Stop trying to appeal to teenagers with your dumb memes.”
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