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.

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Comments on “Police Accountability Is A Good Thing”

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Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

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.

Ferin says:

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.

Brian says:

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.

DCX2 says:

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…

Brian says:

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.

piperonal says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

mobiGeek says:

Re: 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.

Jezsik says:

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.

Jason Still (profile) says:

Re: 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.

niftyswell says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.)

Rich Kulawiec says:

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.

Rate the Laws not the Police says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.”

edog (user link) says:

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.

Tammer says:

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.

Carly Kullman (user link) says:


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!


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