New York- Last Friday, Capital New York reported that several changes had been made to Wikipedia entries including those regarding the deaths of Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo, and those changes were traced back to computers operating on the NYPD’s network. Garner, Bell, and Diallo were three unarmed men killed by the NYPD in separate incidents.
According to Capital New York, a spokesperson confirmed over the weekend that the Wikipedia edits stemmed from NYPD servers, and police have identified one editor of an Eric Garner entry as an individual working from NYPD computers outside of 1 Police Plaza. The NYPD has not publicly named the individual.
“We are conducting an internal investigation to identify what member of the service may have accessed the Department’s server. These incidents did not originate from computers located at Police Headquarters,” said Deputy Commissioner Stephen Davis regarding edits to the “Death of Eric Garner” Wikipedia page made on Dec. 3, 2014, shortly after a grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.
Capital New York revealed the following edits reportedly made by a user on the 1 Police Plaza network to the “Death of Eric Garner” entry:
- “Garner raised both his arms in the air” was changed to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.”
- “[P]ush Garner’s face into the sidewalk” was changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.”
- “Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” was changed to “Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.”
- The sentence “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” was added to the description of the incident.
- Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock,” and once to “respiratory distress.”
The screenshots of those changes can be seen here.
Capital New York reported that on April 12, 2007, a user on 1 Police Plaza’s network tried to delete a “Sean Bell Shooting Incident” Wikipedia entry. “He [Bell] was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore. The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable,” the user wrote on Wikipedia’s “Articles for deletion” page.
Capital New York also reported that on On Nov. 23, 2013, a user on the 1 Police Plaza network edited a Wikipedia entry for an unarmed man named Amadou Diallo, who was killed by the NYPD in 1999 after his wallet was identified as a gun. Changes were made to a sentence referring to NYPD Officer Kenneth Boss, an officer who was involved in the shooting. The sentence “Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed man was shot, but remained working as a police officer” had been changed to “Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an armed man was shot”.
Changes have also reportedly been made to Wikipedia entries about the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies:
“The stop-and-frisk program of New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department to stop, question, and search people” was changed to “The stop-and-frisk program of New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department to stop, question and, if the circumstances of the stop warrant it, conduct a frisk of the person stopped.”
“The stop-and-frisk program of New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department to stop, question and, if the circumstances of the stop warrant it, conduct a frisk of the person stopped” was changed to “The stop-and-frisk program of New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department by which a police officer who reasonably suspects a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or a Penal Law misdemeanor, stops and questions that person, and, if the circumstances of the stop warrant it, conducts a frisk of the person stopped.”
“if the circumstances of the stop warrant it, conducts a frisk of the person stopped” was changed to “if the officer reasonably suspects he or she is in danger of physical injury, frisks the person stopped for weapons.”
“The rules for stop and frisk are found in New York State Criminal Procedure Law section 140.50, and are based on the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio” was also added to the Wikipedia entry.
Capital New York pointed to a list of anonymous Wikipedia edits tracing back to NYPD IP addresses that can be seen here. Davis said that a thorough investigation will be difficult because the NYPD maintains just one-year logs of computer activity. The NYPD may be able to investigate its records regarding recent changes such as the Eric Garner edits, but the department may not able to trace older activity. Capital New York reportedly discovered Wikipedia edits connected to the NYPD spanning at least ten years.