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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reviewing RateMyCop

When I first found out about my first thought was, "Ok, sounds like a good idea." Then when several police departments made a big stink about it and tried to push legislatures to make such sites illegal I thought, "Yeah, their arguments make no sense."

But, then I started really thinking about the site, the premise behind rating cops by name without any way to verify who was rating them, and how this would actually solve anything about police conduct... and I couldn't come up with a good answer.

Here's the first problem, people don't choose which cop they'll be confronted with, so this information is relatively useless to citizens.

Next, this information is unverifiable, so it's useless in a court of law. This also means that there is no way that a police department will take any of these reviews seriously, they will not spark any actual investigations or policy changes.

Also, the cops being reviewed will not change their behavior based on a bad review, in fact it may instead cause retaliatory threats or just reinforce the "us vs them" mentality most problematic officers have.

Lastly, there are no real mechanisms to prevent gaming of the system. In other words, if a cop gets a bad review that is actually honest, nothing prevents the cop from having all his friends negate that review with a bunch of falsely positive reviews.

In fact, as I spent some time on the site in the Seattle Police Department section, I noticed that it appeared as though there were more cops posting reviews of each other than there were regular people posting reviews of the cops. Indeed, some of the remarks included "hides his true feelings." or just simply "wow" that included good marks after a bad review or "Head thumper. Outstanding cop." Indeed, some of the bad reviews even seemed to be cops messing around with other cops as in one review that gave bad marks but included the comment "I'm just jealous, she's perfect".

However, the most disturbing post made was this...

...from a cop calling another cop an "OPA rat" in reference to the Seattle Police Department's internal investigation department: the "Office of Professional Accountability". If a comment like this, intended to intimidate and stop officers from cooperating with internal investigations into misconduct, were made in person it would result in disciplinary action. That such comments can now be made anonymously by officers will cast a chill on internal cooperation with the OPA and make it less likely that officers will actually cooperate with investigations into allegations of misconduct, thus running counter to the site's intent.

At this point in time, I can find few redeeming qualities for this site and, in fact, see the potential for much more harm done than good. But, I wouldn't go so far as to say it deserved to be shut down by it's provider at the urging of police as it was earlier this month.

But I don't support it either.

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