Cops Edit Wikipedia Pages On Police Brutality

by Zoe Ferguson

If there hasn't been enough drama surrounding U.S. police in the last few months, here's a brand-new addition to pin to your list. According to Capital New York, changes to the Wikipedia pages detailing multiple cases of alleged police brutality against black men have been traced to Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses belonging to 1 Police Plaza. That's right — it seems police have been altering Wikipedia pages about police brutality.

Capital, an online news service reporting on events in and around New York City, announced Friday that they had discovered the changes during a review. A total of 85 New York Police Department IP addresses — unique computer identifiers that specify exactly which computer is visiting a certain website — have edited Wikipedia pages on famous cases of alleged police brutality. Editors have apparently even attempted to delete pages for victims of the altercations, including those describing the accounts of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and Eric Garner, the latest to die after a brutal assault by police.

In the case of Eric Garner, Wikipedia editors from NYPD changed the language of the entry to soften it, making harsh terms seem more palatable and actions by the police seem less violent. Where the original article said the officers placed Garner in a chokehold, the police editor — or editors —changed the phrasing to say he as put in a "chokehold or headlock," diminishing the fact that the action used in Garner's case was an illegal chokehold. The addition of the word "headlock" seems to attempt to indicate that the action was something other than an illegal chokehold.

Significantly, the edits to Garner's page include the addition of an entire sentence that seems to place blame on Garner, framing him as large and threatening, similarly to the way Michael Brown was portrayed by Darren Wilson in his grand jury testimony.

Between two sentences, the NYPD added, "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them."

As of March 12, most of the edits, including this sentence, had been removed by other Wikipedia users. Only three remained.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Capital review also turned up evidence regarding the Wikipedia page on the death of Sean Bell. Bell died on Nov. 25, 2006, when undercover NYPD officers fired 50 times at three unarmed men, killing him. On April 12, 2007, records show that a user on the 1PP network attempted to delete the Wikipedia page "Sean Bell shooting incident."

Between 2012 and 2013, police users also edited the Wikipedia entry on "Stop-and-frisk" extensively. Among the edits:

"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."
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Users on the police network also changed entries about police scandals and corruption, police misconduct, and notable figures on the force. In June 2006, one user deleted parts of the "scandals and corruption" section of the "New York City Police Department" entry, deleted a total of 1,502 characters, including a full sentence that claimed, "At the end of March, 2006, NYPD started to make changes to this very article in an attempt to censor scandals and corruption information."

Images: Capital/screenshot (1), Wikipedia, Getty Images (2)