By now many of you have read about the unnamed police officers who changed the Wikipedia entries of a few of the most notorious police killings of unarmed civilians to rewrite history and blame the victims. It was an unprofessional and stupid thing to do. What’s alarming, however, is that these cops did not give a second thought to doing this from police headquarters at 1 Police Plaza in lower Manhattan.
City workers are subject to very strict rules about using work computers for personal reasons. These are known as the City’s Conflict of Interest Laws, or short hand, ethics rules. You see, it is illegal and unethical to use resources like computers, paid for by the taxpayers of the city, to conduct non-city activities. Violations of the Conflicts of Interest Laws may be penalized up to $25,000, and can be punishable as a misdemeanor criminal offense. Your author has both worked in City government and represented clients accused of conflicts of interest violations and it is serious business. My bosses in city government always made it abundantly clear that you do NOT use anything belonging to the City for any personal use. And that is as it should be. It seems that the only city supervisor that disagrees with this notion is Police Commissioner Bratton.
When his subordinates — police officers — got caught breaking the law, he didn’t get mad, he didn’t take serious action, he said “frankly, I don’t anticipate any punishment.” Really? No punishment for breaking the conflict of interest law. Is it because in this case they weren’t just any city employees, they were cops and deserving of special treatment under law? Are they not subject to that bedrock principle in our jurisprudence of “equal justice under law”?
We have had police officers tell us in depositions of times when, while on the taxpayers clock, they were not performing their official duties as a police officer. We have been told that police officers are “not that good” at not taking items out of the trunk of police cars like flares and safety kits home for personal use. In other words stealing stuff. Has anyone told the rank and file cops about the ethics law?
That’s why we filed a complaint last week with the Conflicts of Interest Board about the wikipedia incident. If Commissioner Bratton cannot be trusted to adequately police his own department, then an outside agency must do so. An article about our complaint appeared in the Daily News here.
Perhaps we might find all of this more acceptable if Commissioner Bratton weren’t the city’s chief proponent of the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement, which is to enforce even the most petty of violations so that people are not tempted to commit more serious crimes. Well Commissioner Bratton, if you believe in the broken windows theory so much, why not trying it out on your own police force?