DC Police email scandal.
March 29, 2001 6:59 AM   Subscribe

DC Police email scandal. The District of Columbia put computers in patrol cars and encouraged email use to help keep lengthy communication off the radio waves. Instead, a recent audit of department emails showed that many officers used it to send "racist, vulgar and homophobic messages" to each other. Further complicating matters, it appears this might create legal problems for the police -- defense lawyers can undermine officer credibility, convictions may be reviewed for civil rights violations, and the department may be subject to "hostile work environment" lawsuits. Is this a privacy violation, or just another case of employees being too dense to realize that email sent on their employer's system should never be considered private?
posted by monkey-mind (15 comments total)
Regis, I think the correct answer is "B".

Public-sector employees should have learned a long time ago that any recorded communication is part of the public record. This is no different than recorded 911 calls, recorded radio transmissions, written memoranda, etc.
posted by briank at 7:18 AM on March 29, 2001

in the article: 'Sgt. G.G. Neill, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the messages were unprofessional but that department policy had been unclear and that officers shouldn't be suspended or discharged.

"I think it's just a lack of proper training for officers and an understanding that the communications are public record," Neill said. "I'm sure if officers realized the communications were in the public review, they wouldn't have said what they said."

so, the chairman here is not necessarily saying that the officers in question have done a bad thing; rather, that they should have known not to make their racist/ignorant opinions public. super. i'm just amazed (and terrified) these people are allowed to carry guns.
posted by bliss322 at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2001


its early. i'm more amused than filled with commentary.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2001

I'm not sure it even matters what was said. Any cop who thought those emails would be private is a little too clueless for my comfort. But then, anyone who wants to be a cop in DC has a screw loose in the first place.
posted by aaron at 8:56 AM on March 29, 2001

Common sense dictates that you do not e-mail anything that you do not want to see printed and posted on a bulletin board.
bliss, if you think that cops carrying guns is bad, you should be terrified of the military. Most notably the army, and I am not talking strictly traditional white not liking black racism.
posted by a3matrix at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2001

I hate to say it, and while I'm clearly overgeneralizing I hope this won't be seen as flaming, but there are 3 things going on here:

1. Cops tend to be racist, homophobic (pardon the pun) pigs. This kind of speech is all too common in local law-enforcement circles, and it probably didn't strike many of them that some people would have a problem with it.
2. Cops tend to be dumb, especially when it comes to technology. (For an example, please click here). It's not surprising that they didn't realize how easily this stuff could be made public.
3. Even if they did realize it, cops tend to have a superiority complex that would let them believe there were no consequences to such actions.

Blast me if you will, but the three elements above are what lead to travesties like the Diallo shooting, and LA's Rampart Division.
posted by jpoulos at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2001

From the article:

"I think it's just a lack of proper training for officers and an understanding that the communications are public record," Neill said. [Sgt. G.G. Neill, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police.] "I'm sure if officers realized the communications were in the public review, they wouldn't have said what they said."

The real problem here lies in that quote. It's not that the cops didn't know they were going to get caught. It's the fact that they're racist homophobes in the first place. Uh, sensitivity training, anyone?
posted by nedlog at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2001

I'd want to see samples of these emails before I started calling people racists and homophobes.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:23 AM on March 29, 2001

Sensitivity training, now there's a thought.

Last year a police sergeant here in Cambridge (MA) was doing a seminar on how to subdue suspects and explained to the Good Citizenry that it was useless to use pepper spray on Hispanics or Indians because those people eat hot-n-spicy food and are thus immune.......yeah, he got told to go take some sensitivity training.
posted by briank at 12:06 PM on March 29, 2001

Does that mean you shouldn't kiss a Hispanic woman if you can't take hot and spicy food?

HAHAHA That guy was/is an ass.

I agree with jpoulos about the superiority complex too. I know you can't make sweeping stereotypes and say all cops. I rented an apartment from a NYC mounted police officer, lived upstairs from he and his wife and 2 children, and he was definitely an exception to the rule. More cops like him would be a big improvement.

Putting a badge and gun on a body does something. I saw it all too much in the military. The base cops were too full of themselves.

All in all though, I still have a lot of respect for cops, it is a crappy job and I would not want to do it. You have all eyes on everything you do, case in point here, and are expected to behave unlike the rest of society due to your status as a cop.

Has to be a hard line to walk.
posted by a3matrix at 12:30 PM on March 29, 2001

I'd want to see samples of these emails before I started calling people racists and homophobes.

The assistant chief of police said that the emails were racist and homophobic. He's going to come down on the side of the police. If he's admitting it, how much more do you need?
posted by anapestic at 12:32 PM on March 29, 2001

As a DC resident this story doesn't surprise me. Most police in this town tend to be a bit narrow minded. With DC being such a melting pot for a variety of ethnic and cultural diversity, this is going to be a very hard issue for the police to just brush under the rug. What really surprised me was that some of the e-mails were directed at other cops. I've tasted the tear gas at the A16 WTO demonstrations, so I know how they feel about people like me.

Who will police the police?
posted by mrBMsandwich at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2001

The FOIA makes all email of government employees on government systems available to everyone. At the university I worked for, we went to great lengths to remind faculty and staff that all of the email on the U systems fell into this category, which is plenty of reason not to use the U for personal emails. (Students' email is protected at this particular U, because student systems are paid for directly by the students, not taxpayer dollars.)
posted by dan_of_brainlog at 2:39 PM on March 29, 2001

I'm gunna eat me some taco bell before my next protest. That pepper spray is a bitch.
I think it's kind of unfair to say that a person is stupid if they dont know that their employers can read their emails. I think tech savvy people sometimes lose perspective of the fact that they are, well, more savvy when it comes to these things.
posted by Doug at 8:40 PM on March 29, 2001

Who will police the police?

We will, I hope. Mr., uh, BMsandwich (is that a bowdlerized version of the Spinal Tap classic?), does DC have a citizens' police review board, or any such mechanism? I'm also a DC-area resident and I'd like to know. I could find out myself, but maybe some other people here would like to know too.
posted by nedlog at 10:44 AM on March 30, 2001

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