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2 NYPD Officers Who Edited Wikipedia Pages Face Slap on Wrist

By Murray Weiss | March 16, 2015 1:55pm
 Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold on him while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
Eric Garner died after an officer used a chokehold on him while trying to arrest him in Staten Island.
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New York Daily News

NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD has identified — but will likely only issue minor reprimands against — two veteran police officers who allegedly used department computers to change Wikipedia pages on several high profile police abuse cases, including the death of Eric Garner, officials and sources said on Monday.

“Two officers, who have been identified, were using department equipment to access Wikipedia and make entries,” Commissioner Bill Bratton said at an unrelated press conference on Monday afternoon. “I don’t anticipate any punishment, quite frankly,” he added.

The two officers — whose names were not released — do not work in Police Headquarters, and are assigned to two different units from one another, sources said.

They are expected to be spoken to by Internal Affairs Bureau investigators, but barring any additional infractions, sources said they will not face any punishment for what they did to the Wikipedia pages.

Since Wikipedia is a publicly accessed and edited web encyclopedia, it's not inappropriate for NYPD officers or anyone else to visit pages and edit references they believe are technically inaccurate, sources said.

“That is their First Amendment right,” a law enforcement source said.

The NYPD doesn’t have a policy specific to accessing Wikipedia but is in the process of reviewing its social media rules to give additional guidance to its personnel, Bratton said. 

The two NYPD officers are likely to only face a minor reprimand for using department computers for personal activity, sources said.

“We are quite clear that when you are using city computers it is supposed to be for city business. This was not authorized business,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday. 

Capital New York reported Friday that 85 IP addresses registered to 1 Police Plaza logged hundreds of edits to Wikipedia entries on victims of alleged police brutality, dating back as many as 10 years. They include pages for the "Death of Eric Garner," "Stop-and-Frisk," "Sean Bell" and "Amadou Diallo."

The NYPD only maintains records that can trace computer use for one year, and they were able to track the two veterans who tinkered with the recent Eric Garner changes.

For example, the Garner entry was reportedly edited on Dec. 3, 2014, shortly after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for his death.

“Garner raised both his arms in the air” was replaced by “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke,” while the sentence “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” was added to the entry, Capital reported.

Two edits were also made to the word “chokehold,” which was replaced by “respiratory distress” and "chokehold headlock" in separate mentions.  Other Wikipedia users later removed some changes. 

Police officials directed none of the changes, a department spokesman said.

The NYPD plans to distribute new smart phones this year to all its officers and the rank -and-file will be reminded at that time that the patrol guide prohibits any personal use on department phones and computers. 

Most NYPD computers don't allow access to the Internet, a source said.

Ben Fractenberg contributed to this story.