by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
filter, oakland, occupy, police, spam

Police Chief's Custom Spam Filter Blocks Occupy Protestors, Brutality Complaints And (Oops) Federal Monitors

from the citizens-of-oakland:-prepare-to-meet-the-princes-of-Nigeria dept

We all enjoyed a loud, incredulous laugh when Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, went on record as being proudly computer illiterate. "Never use email," she said as part of statement delivered by teletype. Perhaps Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan should have chosen the Luddite Way, thus avoiding his current problems. Instead, he chose to perform the digital equivalent of plugging his ears and shouting nonsensical syllables at the top of his lungs in order to actively ignore news he didn't want to hear (found via the essential Police Misconduct Reporting Project).
People who've e-mailed Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan over the past year about Occupy Oakland probably didn't get much of a response.

That's because he used a spam filter to dismiss messages sent to him with "Occupy Oakland" in the subject line, according to a federal court filing Monday. Same goes for the phrases "stop the excessive police force," "respect the press pass" or "police brutality." Instead of landing in his in-box, those messages went straight into his junk mail folder, which he apparently never looked at.
It's tough work being Chief. A steady stream of complaints about the police force under your "control" is sure to be disheartening. But, if you can't take the heat, reroute it out the nearest opening, am I right? And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling federal court monitor.
Because of those filters, Jordan missed e-mails from other city officials and a federal court monitor, who oversees the department's compliance with court-ordered reforms stemming from a police abuse scandal.

Robert Warshaw, the monitor, had sent Jordan an e-mail with the subject line "Disciplinary Actions-Occupy Oakland." Jordan told the court on Oct. 18 that he never saw those e-mails, infuriating Thelton Henderson, the federal judge in San Francisco who appointed Warshaw.
Oops. Ignoring the persistent chatter of unhappy citizens is one thing. Ignoring a federal judge is quite another. While you can safely ignore some of the people all of the time, you can't really ignore all of the people all of the time. You can attempt it, but then you end up in "unprecedented" territory, which is never a good place to be if you value your career.
Henderson will hear arguments in December about whether to place the Police Department into the hands of a federal receiver, which Oakland officials believe is unprecedented.
When you've mismanaged your post so badly that the police department ends up in receivership via a court order, you've probably done more than filter out anything resembling bad news. A year of unread email certainly didn't improve the ongoing compliance issue. The handling of "Occupy Oakland" didn't instill any confidence in the public that their law enforcement officials were there to serve and protect. Henderson's willful rerouting of email pertaining to allegations of excessive force and brutality shows a very ugly contempt for the citizens under his protection. Of course, now that the truth has come out, he has a few excuses.
He had been inundated with anonymous messages, he said in a declaration to the court.
Well, of course. Anonymity is a key ingredient in any protest. Being inundated with messages you don't like doesn't grant you the permission to revise the incoming narrative by dumping anything negative into the trash. The excuse continues:
But he forgot the e-mail filter was still in effect.
It's an easy thing to forget if you find painting a self-portrait on rose-tinted glass preferable to actually dealing with problems in the community and, indeed, within the ranks of your own force. The brain has many wonderful tricks its willing to play on you to provide you with the short term memory and justification needed to "forget" your determined pruning of incoming messages.
"It was never my intention to ignore the monitor," Jordan said in his declaration.
No. I'm sure it wasn't. You had no desire to piss off a federal judge. But it was your intention to ignore the general public, a fact that goes unacknowledged by this pitiful statement attempting to pass itself off as some sort of an apology. Turning your incoming mail into a "yes-man" approximation is just plain sad.

Reader Comments

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  • icon
    weneedhelp (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:16am

    "It was never my intention to ignore the monitor"

    Just the peons called the public.

    A Word from Chief Howard A. Jordan

    I am cognizant of my duty to provide public safety through a focus and dedication by means of crime prevention and crime response. Paramount to my duty, I place my personal values of honesty, integrity, courage and respect. These values are required by me, my profession, and the oath I took to serve. Through my 24 years of service to the City of Oakland, I have demonstrated these values in my relationships with, and service to, my community. It is important to me that my values, which have now become the values of the Department I lead, are equally exhibited in moments of routine as well as in moments of critical incident.

    Yeah, ok chief.

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

  • icon
    techinabox (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:23am

    Cops don't care.

    I have several police officers in my family who do not understand why I and many other people do not respect the police. I try to explain to them by pointing out things like the UC Davis incident, the FBI fake terrorism plots, and entrapping high school kids in Florida that make people see all the police as if they were civil rights era southern sheriffs. Sadly it falls on deaf ears.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:32am

      Re: Cops don't care.

      It is really unfortunate because many police officers are good at their job, care about the people they are supposed to be protecting, and want to make a difference.

      At least, that's what I hear, I tried to confirm it, but the local chief never responded to my email.

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

    • icon
      weneedhelp (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:50am

      Re: Cops don't care.

      Me too. State police. They are of the thinking you must respect them wholeheartedly and they can treat you as they wish and you still need to respect their authoritay.

      They dont understand that a small amount of respect should be given, but what they think they should get, needs to be earned. I said this to one and you would have thought I kicked his dog.

      It is also funny, or not, to see his attitude from when he started to 7-8 years later. Different person. At first it was like Ill be fair, and do good for the community, but now he's all i throw the book at em. Everyone's a liar and guilty.


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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 2:15pm

      Re: Cops don't care.

      I'll start respecting the police when they start actually doing something to get rid of bad cops.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:29am

    so many in a similar position as these two. the trouble is, knowing so little about the internet and the technology doesn't stop them from getting the jobs or implementing these filters. you would think they would at least get some advice first, but i suppose that's being too obvious

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:36am


    What does it say about that police department when the chief has received enough messages with "stop the excessive police force" in the subject that he thinks he needs to set up a filter?

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

  • icon
    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:44am

    It could be worse. If it were the filters of the RIAA/MPAA, only emails getting to the inbox are those featuring a "RE: $" in the subject line.

    All other email is deleted from the server, you know, to conserve space and ensure there's no copyright infringement in them.

    /sarcasm for the win

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2012 @ 10:58am

    i'd like a dime for every time this sort of thing happens. it's bad enough when it is unintentional, but intentional? he deserves to be replaced tout suite!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2012 @ 11:00am

    As police chief you'd think he'd at least have the intelligence to hire a secretary or something to parse his emails for him. Then he could happily continue to ignore technologica without making himself look like a complete fool...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2012 @ 11:27am

    He was trying to help..

    He wanted to remind everyone that they have the "right to remain silent"... in fact... he's just going to pretend you ARE silent.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 8 Nov 2012 @ 11:40am

    I wonder...

    What do the police in Oakland do if you completely ignore them when they are yelling at you?

    Can you just tell them: "oops! My 'drop the gun and put your hands up' filter totally made me miss that..."

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

  • identicon
    Joseph M. Durnal, 8 Nov 2012 @ 12:11pm

    I have some experience

    Having designed and configured e-mail systems for large law enforcement entities I can say that the chiefs and captains are treated differently than the average officer. Their wishes are often granted by their IT departments without question or regard for anything other than making them happy. A chief could say that he is inundated with e-mail about a certain subject and that much of it is irrelevant or spammy. The IT guy sets up a filter for XYZ and the problem is solved. The chief is happy because he stopped getting all of the useless e-mail, the IT guy gets an at-a-boy for making the chief happy. The collateral damage is the e-mails that are sent to the junk mail folder that actually are important, everyone is still happy because nobody looks there. Does this mean that the chief wanted to ignore actionable e-mails? Not necessarily, but it sure looks bad.

    The best thing for agency heads and other public figures in law enforcement is to have separate accounts for the public figure, which is managed by a team, and a account for the individual which they use to manage the day to day business of their department or division. Sure, it would be nice for the public to be able to engage the chief directly, but in most cases, it isn't practical.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2012 @ 2:23pm

      Re: I have some experience

      The "account for the individual which they use to manage the day to day business of their department or division" address is subject to FOIA request and publication, rendering your idea more or less useless.

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

  • identicon
    New Mexico Mark, 8 Nov 2012 @ 12:12pm

    A better strategy

    Frankly, I'm giving the police chief the benefit of the doubt on this one. E-mail is a hugely abused medium and it wouldn't surprise me if his e-mail address was targeted as part of a protest movement.

    Let's face it. E-mail is routinely filtered at several different levels. Furthermore, e-mail is in no way equivalent to postal mail. (The judge is just as guilty in trying to make it equivalent.)

    SMTP was not intended to be a reliable delivery mechanism. If something is really important, use a different medium. Many types of messages are blocked, deleted, or quarantined in various places even without special filtering. Are you seriously arguing that any public official should be made responsible to read, respond to, and save every e-mail they receive, no matter what? You seem to believe most police already have too many pissing contests... imagine if they didn't filter all the Viagra e-mail!

    My biggest criticism is that he should have filtered those e-mails to a folder and archived them as needed for evidence. Had he done so, this whole thing might have been shown to be a tempest in a teapot. Now we'll never know and he's in the hot seat.

    There are appropriate ways to register complaints or accuse someone of official misconduct, even while maintaining anonymity. E-mail is about the worst medium I can think of. It is also turned out to be a lousy medium for one haughty federal judge to use. The only difference is that the court monitor and judge Thelton Henderson have bigger di... er... sticks behind their technical ignorance. Oh... and a silly name. Thelton probably got bullied a lot as a kid.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 8 Nov 2012 @ 12:17pm

      Re: A better strategy

      "Frankly, I'm giving the police chief the benefit of the doubt on this one. E-mail is a hugely abused medium and it wouldn't surprise me if his e-mail address was targeted as part of a protest movement"

      Ok, even given that, a protest movement against:
      "stop the excessive police force"
      "respect the press pass"
      "police brutality"

      As the chief of police, these seem like the kinds of things you may want to consider taking head-on rather than brushing them off to the side and assuming they are a bunch of garbage.

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

    • identicon
      maxnicks, 8 Nov 2012 @ 2:35pm

      Re: A better strategy

      ... and Frankly I'm of the mind that once again F*ck the Police is outstanding.

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Nov 2012 @ 9:39pm

      Re: A better strategy

      You almost convinced people, right up until...
      "It is also turned out to be a lousy medium for one haughty federal judge to use."
      So we see which side your on.
      Email is immediate in most cases and a departmental email is property of the public and part of your job to monitor.

      A Federal Judge charged with over seeing your department for violations so bad that a FEDERAL JUDGE IS APPOINTED TO LOOK OVER YOUR DAMN SHOULDER, means your a screw up.
      The Judge could have send freaking carrier pigeons if he wanted to.
      Knowing you had someone overseeing you and you hear NOTHING as your department is violating court rules about what you can and can't use really shows a lack of brain power on the part of the Chief.
      Even after talking to the press and claiming that the flash bangs being used in your city are not your fault, shows a complete lack of control of the situation. They were barred from using them, told not to, but they invited in other departments and didn't share that in Oakland the use of those items was forbidden.
      And even after shooting a veteran in the head with a gas grenade, and video of one of your officers throwing a flash bang into the crowd trying to help him (making sure to wait to throw it so they had no time to scatter)... and you still haven't heard for the Judge who holds your balls in his hand... maybe you should reach out to him.

      The Chief is unfit for duty and should be removed.
      Boo hoo hoo I got emails.
      Rather than delegate the complaints of people to the proper locations he sent them away, filters can also forward the message to OTHER people and not just the trash.
      How many complaints about police brutality were ignored? ALL
      How many did they check to see were valid? NONE
      How can the public trust a department run by a moron who thinks filtering police brutality reports from his email makes the problem stop? CAN'T

      Who are you supposed to tell when a cop shoots you in the head with a gas grenade? Please tell us, because it seems the man in charge of the whole shitball would be the proper place to start to avoid retaliation from a department who likes to retaliate.

      But please go on, tell us how someone who is in charge of a department so screwed up it needs a federal monitor is in the right here....

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

  • identicon
    MD, 9 Nov 2012 @ 10:17am


    If I tell the officer "Sorry, I forgot to renew my license" I still get a ticket. there are simple basic requirements for a job; in an administration job today, email has replaced the reams of paper with check-offs and signatures required that uset to arrive in inter-office envelopes 20 years ago. If the chief could not deal with this, he should not be chief.

    Just like "Duh, you should know when your license expires", I will say "Duh? You didn't notice that you were missing hundreds of emails? Nobody from the courts, legal, your underlings, city hall - nobody said they sent you and email that you did not see, you never wondered why people said they sent you stuff and you never saw it?" the problem is not technology, the problem is the arrogance and willful blindness to an obvious administrative problem. It's only fitting that it blows up in his face this way.

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

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