Web Site Draws Cops' Wrath

A new Web site is prompting outrage among many police officers.

RateMyCop.com lists cops' names -- some 140,000 and counting -- as well as the badge numbers of many of them, and enables people to rate them.

That, say many law enforcement officers, violates their rights, in part because there's little or no -- policing -- by the site of the information posted on it.

The Early Show took a look at RateMyCop.com and spoke to its founder, as well as a police representative, as part of its new series, "Caught in the Web." Every week, the show will look at controversial Web sites that find new ways to monitor people's behavior.

Until now, says Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen, there hasn't been a place for people to post comments about cops they encounter.

But registered users of RateMyCop.com can search for officers by name, department, or state, provide comments, and rate them based on professionalism, fairness, and overall satisfaction.

And what are some users of the site saying about "their" cop?

One wrote, "He has an extremely aggressive behavior issue involving any issue he feels he is not in control of," while another said, "He is a very exceptional cop in all known incidents."

But Hector Basurto, vice president of the Latino Police Officers Association, says, "Having a Web site like that puts a lot of law enforcement in danger, because it exposes us out there."

Kevin Martin, vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, lists several things he worries about: "Will they be able to access our home addresses, our home phone numbers, our marital status, whether we have children-- which is always a big concern."

But the site's founders say all of the officers' names and badge numbers were obtained through public records, and claim the site doesn't disclose any private information about them.

Still, some police representatives want legislation to shut down the site, but legal experts, citing the First Amendment, say that could be difficult.

"Any kind of publication is protected, as long as it is not publishing privileged information," observes constitutional law Prof. Peter Keane, of the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

On The Early Show Monday, RateMyCop.com founder Gino Sesto told Chen, "Our hope ... is to be able to create some transparency between officers and the citizens they patrol, to be able to create a communication way for people to talk to each other."

But Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California and a lieutenant with the San Diego Sheriff's Department, called the site, "one of the most insidious things to come along in a long time to denigrate the services of peace officers that are out there trying to serve the public and do public good. I don't think there's any good that can really come from it. There's nobody really being responsible to police this Web site and censure the information that's going on the Web site.

"I'd be concerned about my safety, the safety of my family, the safety of my children, my reputation within my community. Anybody can put anything on this Web site. They claim that there is some monitoring going on, but I've been looking at this Web site for several days. I've seen officers accused of sex crimes. I've seen officers accused of child abuse. I've seen officers accused of lying."

Sesto countered that, "We do have a mechanism to monitor the system, if there are comments like he said. We want to know about it, and we'll delete them as soon as possible, and we have. So I would ask him to send that to us, and we will delete them. As far as the safety of his family, we're not posting anything on this Web site that's not available on an everyday traffic ticket."

"This Web site doesn't publish anything other than the officer's name and sometimes their badge number. And we won't let people post any personal information."

"I think Mr. Sesto is incorrect in what he's saying," scoffed Cottingham. "Just the fact that I've seen this information posted on there for several days with no policing, no censorship. Anybody can go on there and make a connection. I mean, if someone has a specious allegation against myself and maybe a neighbor or someone that doesn't know me, because we do live in the communities that we work, see that, they can start posting information saying, 'I know this person, I know where I lives. This is his address.'"

To which Sesto said, "We had this happen once before, and we deleted in immediately, so I don't know what you're speaking to."
  • CBSNews

Comments