New York and San Diego Police Departments Edit Wikipedia Entries on Alleged Police Brutality Cases

Monday, March 23, 2015

It was a lot funnier in 2006 when Stephen Colbert altered a Wikipedia entry that cited his references to Oregon as “California’s Canada” and “Washington’s Mexico” to substitute his real preference for “Idaho’s Portugal.” It was the opinion he always held, he said, “You can look it up.”

His point was that facts in the Internet age are endlessly malleable and “truthiness” is in the fingertips of the typist. It’s a lesson employees at the San Diego and New York police departments have apparently learned, as evidenced by their attempts to make fellow officers look better by editing their respective Wikipedia entries on police brutality.

A San Diego Police Department dispatcher and anonymous others altered the Wikipedia entries to put a more police-friendly slant on articles, according to U-T San Diego. Dispatcher Daniel Weiss told the publication he deleted whole sections of articles on brutality committed by members of his department using computer connections controlled by the city.

“Anything that was deleted was due to inaccuracies as stated in the comments,” Weiss said. “Especially the ‘misconduct’ section, which had bad information and was not linked to the department in many circumstances.” Other changes were made anonymously, but Weiss claims not to have made those edits.

Some of the “bad information” contained summaries of news stories in the Los Angeles Times and other mainstream media. Weiss made changes under his name and denied being responsible for the anonymous changes, which were traced back to Internet connections at the police department.

Across the country, someone at New York Police Department (NYPD) headquarters edited the entry on Eric Garner, who died when placed in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, making numerous changes, such as:

  • “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.”
  • “Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” was changed to “Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.”
  • Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock,” and once to “respiratory distress.”

Kelly Weill of Capital New York also reported that someone at NYPD headquarters altered the entry relating to Sean Bell, an unarmed man shot to death by police officers, and that of Alexien Lien, who was tracked down by bikers and an undercover NYPD officer and beaten. In all, 85 IP addresses registered to NYPD headquarters were used to edit Wikipedia articles, Capital New York reported.

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, formerly head of LAPD, told a news conference, “Two officers, who have been identified, were using department equipment to access Wikipedia and make entries. I don’t anticipate any punishment, quite frankly.”

What’s the penalty for truthiness?

–Steve Straehley and Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Wikipedia Edits Came from Within SDPD (by Joel Hoffmann, U-T San Diego)

Readers React to SDPD Wikipedia Edits (by Joel Hoffmann, U-T San Diego)

Edits to Wikipedia Pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo Traced to 1 Police Plaza (by Kelly Weill, Capital New York)

2 NYPD Officers Who Edited Wikipedia Pages Face Slap on Wrist (by Murray Weiss, DNA Info)

Eric Garner’s Wikipedia page Was Edited From an NYPD Computer, NYPD Admits (by Abby Ohlheiser, Washington Post)

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