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Austin Police Want Identities of Online Critics 320

An anonymous reader writes "The police chief in Austin, TX is not happy that people are voicing their disapproval of him via anonymous blog posts and comments. He claims that 'such posts erode public trust in the department.' The chief wants to find out who these people are and investigate and prosecute such posters for statements he deems defamatory and libelous. Interestingly, the article notes, 'the Associated Press has reported that most of the cases fail because statements of opinion are protected under the First Amendment.' One wonders if this is a legitimate problem that warrants public money to investigate, or whether it's that the people who deserve the most public scrutiny don't like it when others take issue with their job performance."
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Austin Police Want Identities of Online Critics

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  • by Ronald Dumsfeld ( 723277 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:23AM (#29475737)
    but the problem is not the one the police chief is making it out to be.

    The problem is that it is utter waste-of-space career political figures such as him don't like criticism. There are laws and processes he can follow to make a case for someone's identity - if he can show reasonable grounds that they have committed libel or deliberate defamation.

    He says, "There ought to be a law against people saying nasty things about me."

    I say, "Get lost you ignorant pigfucker. Don't go into politics if you can't stand being publicly criticised. Oh, and expect to have to pay for legal advice before you make yourself look like a rube hick crying to the press about what your critics say."

    Honestly. If they're not litigious bastards, they want the laws changed or fabricated out of fictional whole-cloth to engineer the political landscape most suited to their aims. Constitutional protections are just an inconvenience.
  • Not surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by webheaded ( 997188 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:28AM (#29475749) Homepage
    There are people like this everywhere. As long as there are police upholding the law, there will be police trying to abuse it, and it would appear no one ever really does anything. Maybe the citizens of that city will get lucky and the mayor will come down and tell him to knock it off if for nothing else other than the fact that he's wasting money. It's been proven that if eroding our civil liberties won't get a politician's attention, money will. That being said, I wish someone on one of those damn news networks calling each other UnAnmerican(tm) about this or that would come together and agree that things like THIS are un-American...but there I go again...being an idealist. *sigh*
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:33AM (#29475773)

    People are posting anonymously because they have no trust in the police.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:34AM (#29475779)

    Ummm,,,,public trust has to be earned too. Acting like a f***ing crybaby won't help.

  • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:35AM (#29475785) Homepage

    Aye, me be thinkin thar be only one way te keep te copper from te coppers: All must keep to a Code, guidelines if ye will. Three of 'em:
          1. Serve the public trust
          2. Protect the innocent
          3. Uphold the law
          4. (Classified)

    Of course, if ye landlubbers want true freedom, take to te sea, 'cause it's a pirate life for me.

  • by TranceThrust ( 1391831 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:45AM (#29475819)
    A police chief who wants to use the law to shut up those who criticize him. If this doesn't ring "police-state" alarm bells then I don't know what will. This chief should go.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:51AM (#29475845)

    Except that's not the complaint, the complaint is that people are misreperesenting themselves as police officers and other officials to make their complaints which is different. Did anyone here read the article?

  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:58AM (#29475879)

    Libelous speech is not protected speech. Never has been, never will. It matters not that the speech is online and was intended to be anonymous.

    If a post consists of "Austin cops suck!", it is obviously a protected matter of opinion.

    "Austin cops' mothers were hamsters and their fathers smelled of elderberries!": Obviously an exaggeration and/or satirical, and is protected via Flynt v. Falwell.

    "Austin cops routinely have orgies in the backroom with arrested hookers!": Libelous (if not true) and not protected in any sense of the word. Unleash those subpeonas!

    Just sayin' that this isn't necessarily bogus, and depends on the posts in question.


  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:26AM (#29475993)

    Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the entire city council are Democrats. Austin's chief of police is appointed by the city council......if they don't agree with his actions, they can dismiss him. [] []

  • by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:40AM (#29476069)

    Perhaps this is not as justified as the chief wants it to be. He and his subordinates are public servants, and should be held accountable. If the police are creating reason(s) for the public to distrust them, why should the public trust them?

    What the chief is really saying: "I am a douchebag who thinks my position automatically entitles me to trust and respect."

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:42AM (#29476079) Homepage Journal

    So, register at the Statesman, and comment. I've been registered there for some time - just posted my first comment on the article. There will be more - I use the same name over there. Join in the discussion!!

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by S77IM ( 1371931 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:43AM (#29476081)

    Are you kidding??? Were you paying attention to the previous police administration? Acevedo is a vast improvement. He is a regular cop who rose through the ranks, not a politician looking for a desk job with a lot of power. He is trying to clean up the department and instill the sort of discipline needed to not shoot black people (which has been a tragic recurring problem that the previous administration basically ignored). And Austin has hired a lot of cops recently is because (surprise, surprise) crime has been increasing. Reasons for this are unclear, but the economic downturn must play a part, and a lot of it is blamed on Katrina evacuees (racism again?). In my neighborhood we monitor local crimes and the police response time has improved greatly. Austin still has the one of the lowest police budgets and number of police per capita of any major US city, and some of the lowest crime statistics. So claiming that Austin is becoming a police state is silly.

    Is the APD perfect? Heck no. That blood-draw thing is kind of crap, and for some reason they have been killing people in high-speed chases lately (I guess since they are no longer allowed to shoot black people). But compared to most other police departments, APD is really good, and Acevedo has the unenviable job of trying to make it better. I hope he succeeds.

      -- 77IM

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:31AM (#29476279) Homepage Journal

    The homeless are a problem? Skip over that - there are estimates that human trafficking has almost a million victims (yeah, a victimless crime, right) who have passed through or into Texas in recent years. Sometimes, little boys and girls as young as 10, 11, or 12 years old, being brought into our nation to be sold into sex slavery.

    Where's Austin? It sits astride Interstate 10 and Interstate 35. A HUGE portion of that human trafficking passes through Austin.

    Instead of battling online anonymity, maybe the police chief should be out searching vehicles for child whores being carried to points east and points north.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ancient_kings ( 1000970 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:45AM (#29476349)
    Legalize all drugs (drug war is a complete failure), eliminate 90-99% of the "police" force, direct that money into education, hospitals, homes and churches. How about that? Sounds good to me.
  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @11:05AM (#29476447) Homepage
    Feel free, I'm a British Citizen, resident in Australia. I doubt his jurisdiction applies, even if in his own head he runs the world! In fact, I, on the other side of the world, now know that this guy *is* a jerk, which previously I didn't, so his jerk-like tendencies are now known globally. I think it's known as the Streisand Effect.

    I encourage as many people to criticise him online as possible; he can't haul in everyone. It's the only sane response to an insane individual.
  • by crtreece ( 59298 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @11:41AM (#29476593) Homepage
    It's been stated in multiple other posts.

    Without information identifying posters, they may or may not be with APD. What if the posters really are APD? I don't know what information is in the posts, but if the chief is this riled up about it, I don't expect it would benefit the posters career if they truly are in law enforcement.
  • by sirwired ( 27582 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:02PM (#29476705)

    Prefacing a statement of fact with the words "in my opinion" is not a "get out of libel free" card.

    Saying something highly illegal happens in the backroom of the Austin PD is not a statement of opinion at all (it's a statement of fact), and saying it an opinion does not make it so. If you have no reasonable basis for making the statement (and this is a pretty loose standard), and it is not true, then it is libel. If you DO have a reasonable basis, then it is "reporting", and you have 1st amendment protection.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:02PM (#29476707) that you mention it, no one IS blaming Bush for this. You're the first one to bring it up.

    Which I actually find surprising, considering Texas was mentioned, but alas...

  • A WTF Moment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:03PM (#29476715) Homepage
    Here in Providence, RI our police chief Col. Dean Esserman is known by the moniker "Chief Shiny Badge". I'd say it's an accurate assessment, his rank and file even had a full no confidence vote against the chief a bit over a year ago.

    And who coined the "Chief Shiny Badge" name? Convicted former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci. Cianci also calls current mayor David Cicilline "Little Napoleon" on Cianci's radio show.

    The Austin chief needs to grow a thicker skin.
  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:12PM (#29476783)

    "there are estimates that human trafficking has almost a million victims "

    Sources? Prostitution arrests should provide supporting demographic data if indeed the problem is that vast.
    "Almost a million victims" is the population of a good-sized city.

    Exaggerating a problem is common when one is part of an organization offering a "solution", or when one wants to sell newspapers, get page hits, etc.

  • by Savior_on_a_Stick ( 971781 ) <> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:16PM (#29476819)

    No, calling a public figure a pigfucker isn't libel.

    It's a generic pejorative term indicating derision, rather than a statement of fact.

    It's the same as calling someone a motherfucker.
    The label doesn't actually indicate a statement of fact that the target has engaged in intercourse with his mother.

    Nor does calling someone as asshole indicate a statement that they are actually a walking talking sphincter disguised as a human.

    These are all simply forceful statements of opinion of the "I don't like him" variety.

    As such, they are protected speech.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:23PM (#29476873) Homepage Journal

    Ooops. Sorry. With all the traveling I've done, that's a REALLY stupid mistake. What can I say, besides I typed faster than I thought.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:47PM (#29477047)

    I withhold opinion on all but #2.

    Slow down dumbass. I would LOVE to see local police in my area start taking idiots speeding through school zones with dozens of elementary age children lining both sides of the narrow, alley like road. It is a school zone for a reason. And you are REQUIRED to be at the speed limit before entering the zone...not 200 feet into know, after you already ran two six year old children over.

    On the flip side, I'd also like to see these officers issuing tickets to children walking in the roads when sidewalks are available.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by denobug ( 753200 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:16PM (#29477237)
    I'd pay the fine they want if they would let me select deferred adjudication without having to appear in person and/or having legal representations. I just want the tickets off my records!
  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:41PM (#29477413)

    While your post has some merit - you don't mention that the Mayor of Houston managed to get the city turned into something called a "sanctuary". Basically, if you're an illegal immigrant, the city ain't gonna fuck with you. They won't ask, if you don't tell.

    So basically, this politician suggests leaving alone people who aren't causing trouble? Oh the horror!

    "Bring us your undocumented, homeless, drug addicted, child pimping, low life scuzzy law breaking dregs - Houston will provide SANCTUARY!"

    Are you just trolling, or do you have any evidence for any of these accusations? Besides being undocumented and thus in violation of immigration laws, of course - but then again, since we allow capital to freely move around the world nowadays, why not people too?

    Hell of an election platform to run on, eh?

    Common sense is indeed rare in a politician.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @02:02PM (#29477539)
    The drug that most reliably elicits agression in humans is alcohol, mix an alcoholic with anti-depressents (as many GP's) do and you have a legal but violent and parinoid arsehole. I'm smoking a splif right now and have a picture of Bob Marley doing the same thing on the wall (of the $500K house I own), I've had the picture for a long time, I first sucked down a joint in the mid-seventies.

    At 50 I'm well aware most people have some sort of "vice", be it sex, dope, crack, grog, tabacco, chocolate, coffee, lsd, religion, the trick is not to let it fuck with your life. Sure there are plenty of people who do but you cannot declare war on a social problem without declaring war on society, it's the equivalent of cutting your head off to cure a headache.

    So for fuck's sake, legalise it! I would much rather lead my normal productive life and pay a sin tax than hide and pay the exorbident prices I pay for...bribes?...mafia?...I don't know? ...I get it from a mate I've known for 15yrs. He's a truckie and sells it on the side to pay for his own smoke. I've grown it but never sold it, I'm a software engineer and better paid, we're both too old to be interested in raping and pillaging the neighborhood, and my home theater works just fine. OTOH my ancestors were "blue eyed giants of the north", so it's in the family I s'pose.
  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Achromatic1978 ( 916097 ) <robert.chromablue@net> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @02:10PM (#29477585)

    but if people who were supposed to be here "temporarily" are still in my city committing crimes to this day

    If they are paying rent or such, then I don't care if you're pissed off. All your post says is "we don't like those people in our town". Tell me why you think they have less right to stay and live anywhere they so desire than you?

  • by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @02:36PM (#29477733)

    I'm an Austin resident. I don't have any direct involvement with the police except for the traffic enforcement people -- speeding, stop signs and state inspection stickers. If the Austin Police Chief wants to talk about eroding public trust, they need to collectively agree to follow all laws they plan to enforce. If they want to ticket for 40 in a 45 a block from my house, they damn well better keep it at 40 or under -- speeding by a park with kids at 50 is not acceptable. If they want to ticket for rolling stops, they damn well better actually stop at the stop signs.

    And it would be nice if Austin Police would actually ticket the state police asshole who keeps cutting across 4 lanes of traffic from the far right side of Burnet to get onto MoPac in less than the 100 feet between the traffic light at Gracy Farms and the entrance ramp (ignoring the solid white stripes).

    Instead, the city and state police and the county sheriffs in Austin make me feel like what the good Shephard Book said, "The government is a body of people usually notably ungoverned." There are many specific complaints I have, and can provide patrol car numbers and times; instead, I fear the departments are so corrupt I dare not tempt reprisal.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @03:05PM (#29477915)
    I would assert that it is probably true that any neighborhood with any population with similar socioeconomic demographics (ignoring anything race or ethnicity based) to that of another neighborhood probably have similar rates of violent crime when compared one to another. I wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood with poor "white" folks any sooner than I would in a neighborhood with poor "black" folks. More well-to-do folks have their own dysfunctions, but I would imagine that it's more an issue of property crime as opposed to violent crime. (Note that I am treating domestic violence as a separate type of crime here, as I believe that to be pretty a pretty universal problem regardless of socioeconomic demographics.)
  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @03:35PM (#29478061)

    why not people too?

    Yes we all share these ideals, but surely you've heard of the actual problems caused by illegal immigration.

    They tend to form communities that don't integrate well with society because they don't know the language and customs. The communities foster crime because nobody can call the police without being deported. Victims of violence and abuse can't get help without risking deportation, and neither can exploited workers.

    Deathly ill? Too bad, come in to work or you're fired (and good luck finding medical care). Filthy run-down apartment with no heat and asbestos insulation and that would burn to the ground killing dozens of people if someone was careless with a cigarette? What are you going to do about it.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AlamedaStone ( 114462 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @12:52AM (#29481041)

    illegal immigrants are helping our country the best way they can by you know not paying taxes

    This is the point at which I stopped reading. The only taxes they aren't paying is income tax. I'm no economist, but I'd guess that we could make up the lost revenue of income taxes on every immigrant worker in the country by nailing no more than a handful of corporate executives. Those fine folks who use loopholes in tax law to dodge taxes and hide assets.

    Meanwhile, the immigrants spend a vastly higher proportion of their income on things like sales and luxury taxes than most of the rest of us.

    Get a grip.

Loose bits sink chips.