Kerry Weill of Capital New York reported early yesterday morning that computers operating on the New York Police Department’s computer network at its 1 Police Plaza headquarters had “been used to alter Wikipedia pages containing details of alleged police brutality…” After “examples of the changes were presented to the NYPD,” a department spokeswoman named Det. Cheryl Crispin wrote in an email to Capital New York: “The matter is under internal review.”
Aviva Shen (ThinkProgress) said that the NYPD had “anonymously edited and tried to delete Wikipedia pages about police brutality victims.” According to reports, the edits “coming from 1 Police Plaza headquarters targeted pages for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo.”
NYPD IP addresses were used to edit the Wikipedia page on the “Death of Eric Garner,” who was killed by police chokehold and inspired massive nationwide protests in the fall. Capital New York found that the department changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke,” and added the sentence “Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them,” among other changes.
Weill said that on the evening of December 3, 2014–just “hours after a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner–a user on the 1 Police Plaza network made multiple edits…to the ‘Death of Eric Garner’ Wikipedia entry.”
Weill listed the edits to the “Death of Eric Garner” entry, which she said all concerned “the actions of Eric Garner and the police officers involved in the confrontation.”
● “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.”
Shen said that someone “at the NYPD also tried to delete the article on Sean Bell, an unarmed man who was gunned down by officers firing 50 bullets in 2006, arguing that ‘no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore.'” She added that the NYPD “also edited entries about the police force’s stop-and-frisk policy deemed unconstitutional in 2013, as well as a number of unrelated articles, including ‘Four Loko,’ ‘Sailor Moon,’ and ‘Croissant.’”
Shen said the NYPD’s edits and deletion attempts reflected the department’s “sometimes clumsy response to the increased scrutiny in the wake of controversies over stop-and-frisk, their treatment of Occupy Wall Street activists, and most recently, the crackdown on #BlackLivesMatter protesters.”
Weill noted that the process of “revision and counter revision is typical of Wikipedia’s self-policing user community. The website allows anyone to edit entries, either logged in with a Wikipedia account, or anonymously, in which case the website logs the user’s IP address and creates a publicly available record of the user’s edits.” She said that the edits to Wikipedia pages “from 1 Police Plaza were made anonymously, therefore creating a permanent Wikipedia log of edits made on NYPD IP addresses.” She wrote, “Using this information, Capital was able to write a computer program that would search Wikipedia for all anonymous edits made on the range of IP addresses registered to 1 Police Plaza.”
Edits to Wikipedia pages on Bell, Garner, Diallo traced to 1 Police Plaza (Capital New York)