Police Accountability Is A Good Thing

from the public-scrutiny dept

Jim Lippard points out that a site called Rate My Cop is generating some controversy from Arizona police departments who apparently consider the site an invasion of officers' privacy. The site doesn't have pictures, addresses, or other personal information on the site. It only lists officers' names and the department they work for. But this is still too much for the Tempe police department. "If everybody went home everyday and you had the whole world ranking your job, we do make mistakes, but other days we do great things," said one Tempe police officer. I've have a lot more sympathy for the guy if this wasn't true of a ton of other professions. When I do a stupid blog post, you guys all leave comments saying so. Most restaurants and retail business have complaint cards so customers can complain about bad service. There are a ton of sites where consumers rate hotels, bands, restaurants, books, and a ton of other stuff -- such as rating teachers (although some people do want to make that illegal too). The big difference is that police officers have the force of law behind them, so they need to be held to a higher standard than other professions. The worst thing my blog posts can do is annoy our readers and hurt Techdirt's traffic. When a police officer screws up, the result can be innocent people being harrassed, humiliated, arrested, injured or killed. The cops who do those things are a small minority, obviously. But that's precisely why we need sites like this to help bring some public attention to the few bad apples who are out there.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 6:54am

    Important site for Lawyers or Defendants

    This could be helpful to not only lawyers - but those taking civil suits.

    Imagine discovering more inculpatory information that could either help a Plaintiff or a Defendant.

    If it were not for the Blue Wall of Silence, these alternatives would not be needed.

    After all, there are registries for lawbreakers.

     

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  2.  
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    Le Blue Dude, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:06am

    Well....

    I'd say you make more good posts then bad ones.

     

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  3.  
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    Ferin, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:15am

    Kinda goes with that transparency thing

    Having just finished reading the transparency article on Wired, I think this kind of relects that. Yeah, the averag person doesn't have their work analyzed and rated online by the world. But the average worked doesn't have the power over average citizens that a cop does. This is just another new way to help curb abuse of power by those in authority.

     

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  4.  
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    Brian, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:16am

    I'd hardly call this "valuable"

    It amounts to a slew of anecdotal reports, unverified, from a highly self-selected constituency. Exactly how is this "valuable?" As for "important site for lawyer or defendants"...don't make me laugh.

    Here's a sample entry: "he let this kid that i know escape with a pound of marijuana in his car that the cop visibly saw"

    Wow, that'll stand up in a court proceeding. I can't imagine a jury in the land that wouldn't be swayed by a semi-literate libel of that caliber.

    I agree wholeheartedly that cops need to be held up for public scrutiny. But there are right ways -- juxtaposed with a whole universe of plainly wrong ways -- to go about that.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:25am

    Guess the police don't deserve privacy. So much for your previous blog.

     

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  6.  
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    Le Blue Dude, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:27am

    Re: I'd hardly call this

    lern 2 reed. Honestly, read visibly as noticeably and you'd understand

    Anyway that one might not make a lot of difference, but how about 20-30 similar ones?

     

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  7.  
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    DCX2, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:30am

    Re: I'd hardly call this "valuable"

    There's this concept called "statistically significant". Of course some cops are going to make mistakes, and people are going to post fake allegations. Statistics can account for this.

    Now, if someone begins to have complaints disproportionate in severity to some threshold, there's probably reason to investigate.

    Now if only it were legal to record your encounters with the police (without having to acquire their consent). Imagine the good behavior authority would display if it knew its actions were always one YouTube clip away from popularity...

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:34am

    Poor Assumption

    "The cops who do those things are a small minority, obviously."

    I very much doubt the validity of this statement and feel that this is something that we have been taught is true rather than proven.

     

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  9.  
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    shanoboy (profile), Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:35am

    Is the site already down?

    I tried going to the site and I'm getting the 'cannot find server' message. Has the Fuzz already pushed to site offline.

    Wouldn't surprise me if they have.

     

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  10.  
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    Sean, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:38am

    Stupid Blogs?

    > When I do a stupid blog post, you
    > guys all leave comments saying so.
    That's a striking claim - any evidence to back that one up??? :)

     

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  11.  
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    kilroy, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:54am

    However ...

    If we all held ourselves to higher standards of integrity every day in every thing we do ... there would not be a need for any of these sites. Imagine, a world where honesty & integrity & charity and maybe even common sense were the norm.

     

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  12.  
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    Inquisition (profile), Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:59am

    This should apply to college campus police as well. This NPR article talks about Yale claiming that campus cops aren't subject to the same public records laws as regular police.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88031224

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    DanC, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    The police are public figures, and since they are in public while performing their duties, there is no expectation of privacy.

    You apparently are just looking for "gotcha" moments instead of actually trying to understand what's being written.

     

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  14.  
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    Jezsik, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:04am

    The ultimate 360 degree feedback

    "If everybody went home everyday and you had the whole world ranking your job ..." That would absolutely amazing! Getting feedback from clients is one of the toughest things to accomplish. Most of us are blithely ignorant of how we affect others. Having this sort of feedback mechanism will hurt one's ego, but ultimately improve the system for everyone.

     

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  15.  
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    A Canadian, Eh?, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    The Tables have Turned

    Funny,

    Isn't it the cops who always say; "If you've done nothing wrong, then you don't have anything to hide"?

    All of a sudden, Cops in Tempe have something to hide!
    They must be terrorists!!

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Brian, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:26am

    Re: Re: I'd hardly call this

    "There's this concept called "statistically significant"."

    Thanks for that. I passed Intro to Statistics, too.

    "Of course some cops are going to make mistakes, and people are going to post fake allegations. Statistics can account for this."

    Not without being able to verify the data, you can't. I can sock-puppet 200 negative reviews of any cop I like, given enough time and a big enough axe to grind. I cannot _believe_ you would sit here and argue that a site full of anonymous comments constitutes anything like a valid performance review.

    Jesus Christ, no wonder this country's falling apart. There are ways to deal with police misconduct. Anonymous libel is not one of them.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:27am

    Don't forget about sites that rate judges and attorneys.

    I am currently in a lawsuit to eliminate one of those sites, but I apparently missed the deadline to respond to a motion. Perhaps I should have hired one of the higher ranked attorneys to take over the case for me. (joke/irony intentional)

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Jason Still, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:37am

    Re:

    Don't forget about sites that rate judges and attorneys.

    I am currently in a lawsuit to eliminate one of those sites, but I apparently missed the deadline to respond to a motion. Perhaps I should have hired one of the higher ranked attorneys to take over the case for me. (joke/irony intentional)


    When seeking a skilled professional for any sort of work just randomly picking one out of the phone book is never a good idea. If you need construction work done, you talk to other people who have had similar work done and find out who is good and who is bad. An attorney is no different, one should find out about the reputation of an attorney before employing their services. A web site that lets people review them just simplifies the process, especially since many of us don't personally know a significant enough number of people who've needed the services of an attorney to make a good decision.

     

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  19.  
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    niftyswell, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:52am

    In some areas they are better than the law

    Apparently they do think they are above the law...anyone see the article about how the PA cops arent paying their camera radar tickets? In a small town in Fort Collins, Co on the other hand they make all photo radar tickets and outcomes public knowledge...and there are quite a few that went to cops and were promptly paid. Since moving to the East Coast I have noticed more than a few cops who dont believe the laws they enforce apply to them. I have been up and down this coast noticing many of them dont signal, dont drive the limit, and are caught up in more scandals than I could believe imaginable...no one seems at all surprised or holds them to a higher standard. I understand their desire for privacy- certainly there are a few people who would consider them enemies, but in the end they are servants of the public not the other way around as many of them act.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 8:53am

    If you screw up a blog post, you lose credibility for your work. If a police officers mistake is pointed out, will the citizens lose credibility in their police? If so, what are the repercussions of that?

    That being said, I find the Virginia case of cops not paying speeding tickets that were issued due to speed cameras funny. Cops shouldn't be above the law, but in fact at times they act like they are (and our system allows this.)

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Jake, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    I'm with Brian; these things invariably generate more heat than light, and separating the genuine complaints from spurious or false ones is going to be nearly impossible. Going through the department's existing complaints procedure is a lot more likely to have your complaint taken seriously.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:01am

    They're your employees

    They're your employees: as public servants, they work for you. Therefore, all activities that they engage in while on the job are subject to monitoring and review by you. The same can be, and should be, said of all local, state and federal employees as well as elected and appointed officials.

    Yes, that's a lot to ask: it's tough doing a job while under the bright light of full public disclosure. However, there is a trivially easy way for anyone who doesn't like that to avoid it: don't be a public servant.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:18am

    Re: Re: Public figures

    > The police are public figures

    No, they aren't. At least not the way that term is used in the legal realm, they aren't. They may be public officials but they aren't public figures.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:18am

    Re:

    "by Anonymous Coward on Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:25am

    Guess the police don't deserve privacy. So much for your previous blog."

    Police are public figures, in an openly public job. When they take off their uniform and badge and go home, yes they deserve privacy. But any actions performed while on duty and wearing that badge, should be public information, and not subject to privacy laws.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    piperonal, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    Re: Re: I'd hardly call this "valuable"

    ..."Now if only it were legal to record your encounters with the police (without having to acquire their consent)..."

    Where is it NOT legal to record a public servant performing a duty? A recent case in Texas upheld the right of citizens to videotape police, and NO consent is required.

    Wake up folks: the Police State has already come to your neighborhood, and worse yet most people don't even know their rights. Rights are not granted by police or government, they are inalienable.

     

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  26.  
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    piperonal, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:44am

    Re: Poor Assumption

    amen. I'd say the majority are abusive asses, and a minority are sympathetic, helpful people.

    I'd love to see steroid test results for the average metro copy dept.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re:

    But how does publicly posting their names on a website going to give them privacy when they are home? If the writers of this blog are calling for greater privacy then it is double standard.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Rate the Laws not the Police, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:46am

    These rating sites should be setup in a way that would only show the bureau as a whole and also have information of laws during time of post as it relates.

    Posting comments on police is not a good idea. People can say anything and will. I can see it now "O that guys racist", "he pulled us over for nothing", "this guy touched me","i think they should fire Mrs. Jones". Americans are just to ridicualous for this kind of effort.

    They may encourage some maniac cop killer to enforce his side of the law. Maybe a long-shot, but you have to consider long-shots.

    Police are just doing their job. They are doing it because we need them. If you play with cops by pulling out fake guns and reaching in your pockets during traffic stops then you might get shot and possibly killed.

    If you want to hold police accountable you should take it out on your police chief. We are responsible for what are police do and get away with. They did it in the name of the law weather you like it or not!

    What will make you people happy. The day we have a database on every-god-damn-thing-and-person on the planet. Privacy will be a thing of the past. We won't even remember what it felt like.

    There are better ways to achieve accountability.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Matt, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 10:43am

    Now if they only had a mobile application where I could type the name in my Blackberry right after I get pulled over then it would be useful.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 10:49am

    No More Warnings

    Well I guess this means I can no longer expect to get away with just a warning. A police officer could risk his job and reputation if he lets somebody off on a warning and then that idiot leaves a message of praise saying how he/she "broke the law but officer so-and-so was so nice and let me off the hook this time."

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    edog, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:08pm

    On the Internet

    You never know, the report of a bad cop could have been submitted by a dog! Or... anything! A script could be used to generate thousands of random bad reports about a good cop someone wants to discredit! Yup, we could get cop-report spam, or a million other things.

    However, these are all the typical problems a modern web service has to solve. Will this service end up as useful as Wikipedia, or will it end up more like the Yahoo! Finance message boards (sorry Y!)? That's really up to the purveyors of the web property.

    Regardless, holding public officials up to the light is always a great idea. Police have great responsibility toward society and great personal power over individuals, and letting a little sunlight shine on their performance directly from the people they serve is a great idea, even if it is more than a little uncomfortable at first for them.

    I worked with police way back when and quickly learned that some of them are the absolute best of our society, and some definitely not! Crazy such different folks end up in the same job. Maybe we can celebrate the unsung heroes a bit, and make being less than that uncomfortable.

    The good guys deserve true espirit de corps! And the public deserve accountability without bureaucracy.

     

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  32.  
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    mobiGeek, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    How is posting someone's name an "invasion of privacy" ?

    Calling for greater privacy doesn't include stiffling legitimate critique, journalism, blogging, etc...

    If the entries were posts with someone's contact information or their work schedule or whatnot, then that would be invasion of privacy. But posting that "I saw XXX do YYY" where YYY was observed in the regular course of being a citizen out in public is most definitely not an invasion of privacy.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Cow'ed, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:10pm

    Re:

    Working on it, patenting it, should be ready in a few hours.

    How much would you pay?

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    mobiGeek, that is called stalking. I guess maybe not too you.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    DanC, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    What is it with ACs and their complete misunderstanding of the english language?

    From Miriam-Webster:

    Stalk: to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment.

    Posting a person's name and the actions you observe is not stalking, and is not an invasion of privacy.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    DanC, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re: Re: Public figures

    I don't know the legal definition of a public figure, so I'll take your word for it.

    They still don't have any expectation of privacy while performing their duties in public.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Tammer, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 1:40pm

    Illegitimate Comparison

    "When I do a stupid blog post, you guys all leave comments saying so. Most restaurants and retail business have complaint cards so customers can complain about bad service. There are a ton of sites where consumers rate hotels, bands, restaurants, books, and a ton of other stuff -- such as rating teachers (although some people do want to make that illegal too)."

    You can't compare the feedback mechanism you or businesses have to the feedback that should be in place for police officers because you perform a decidedly less important task. Policing a population is one of the most crucial things a government must do to keep its population safe, and people already begrudge cops the rights they have to try to keep us safe. What we don't need is a forum people can go on to publicly and anonymously malign specific cops, because the potential for abuse is way too high.

    While it is certainly true that a mechanism by which people can report improper police conduct is useful, a public website that anyone can post on and is viewable by the public is not the best way to do it. If a person has a problem with the way a police officer behaved or performed their duty, report it to the precinct or county officials.

     

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  38.  
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    Le Blue Dude, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: I'd hardly call this

    If you had that damn big an axe to grind... They must have done something to piss you off.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Le Blue Dude, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Re:

    Hey, I show cops plenty of respect while they're anywhere near me. I just think that such a site shouldn't be illegal. It's freedom of speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Virginia Guy, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 7:55pm

    Privacy?? They are paid by the tax payer and should be subject to tax payer reviews -- even if it is an anonymous online version. I evenasked one former police officer their opinion and was told "As a police officer you have no privacy - - if you want privacy, work the midnight shift."

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    JobRankedToo, Mar 10th, 2008 @ 9:10pm

    "If everybody went home everyday and you had the whole world ranking your job, we do make mistakes, but other days we do great things,"

    Actually, they do, with sites like http://www.coworkers.com offering a similar venue for workplace performance feedback.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Jane, Mar 12th, 2008 @ 9:37am

    Oops! How About Rate My Boss?

    In a democratic society, nobody should escape about
    the responsibility as they have more power. I think
    sites like RateMyBossCafe.com, RateMyProfessors.com
    have great values to the society to strike the
    balance.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Carly Kullman, Mar 16th, 2008 @ 1:20pm

    Insanity

    I am in total agreement with the above comment. There should be some sort of accountability when it comes to rating an officer. People have their own interpretation when it comes to law enforcement and what the laws are.

    Granted, the information is public, but this is just one huge place on where to find it period. Look at all of the lude comments that have negative comments towards police officers. It's insane. It also puts the police officer's family in danger as well.

    Everyone thinks the cops are so terrible and corrupt and out to get them. Then why use them? Why do you call them if you already know that they're not going to do their job? It can't be both ways ya know!

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/651775/to_serve_protect_rate_my_cop_offers.html

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    360 feedback, May 23rd, 2008 @ 7:40am

    sounds a bit dodgy

    Sounds a bit dodgy to me, the police would be better using a 360 feedback package like reactive360.com and include the general public in their review!.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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