Criminal Justice

The RateMyCop Saga

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So even as police departments across the country are setting up sex offender registries, drug offender registries, and posting the mugs and names of suspected johns online, they also took a great deal umbrage early this month when Gino Sesto set up a site called RateMyCop.com. The premise is simple: Sesto wrote to police departments across the country, and obtained a list of the names and badge numbers of their officers. He then posted the names online in a format broken down by state and city, and encouraged users to rate their experiences with individual officers. All of the information he posted was already open to the public. He didn't post the identities of any undercover officers.

Police groups went nuts, making the dubious argument that posting the publicly-available names and badge numbers of police officers on the Internet somehow jeopardized the safety of individual officers. Sesto said he had even planned on adding a feature that would allow individual officers to write responses to complaints made against them. But police groups persisted.

Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told Wired the site could give citizens the opportunity to "unfairly malign" individual officers, and said he'd be asking the legislature to pass a law making sites like RateMyCop.com illegal.

Last week, it all got weirder. Hosting service GoDaddy mysteriously terminated Sesto's account, and pulled RateMyCop.com offline. GoDaddy has offered several explanations to Wired's ThreatLevel blog, but thus far, none of them have made much sense. Sesto gave up on GoDaddy, and next tried to get the site hosted at RackSpace. They turned him down. After initial accepting his down payment for hosting services, a RackSpace lawyer sent a letter to Sesto stating that, "We believe that the website to be found at www.ratemycop.com as described to our sales representative could create a risk to the health and safety of law enforcement officers."

The good news is, the site's back up, now, though it isn't clear who's hosting it.

Me, I think police departments should be required to post all citizen complaints against individual officers online in a searchable database. Individual officers, their union reps, or their departments could post responses or explanations to frivolous claims. Police officers are public servants. Not only that, they're public servants with the power to arrest, detain, and use lethal force. If certain officers are the subject of repeated complaints and aren't being properly investigated internally, the public ought to be informed of that. This culture of secrecy—and of intimidating anyone who dares question it—isn't healthy.