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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:08AM (#29475923)

    FYI, posting anonymously because APD fucking scares me. This once-peaceful town is morphing into a police-state before my very eyes. It should also be noted that Austin is run by Progressives, and prides itself on being a model for other cities. We're only a few steps away from police checkpoints throughout the city. From environmental laws so strict that only the mega-rich can build anything, to police harassment of citizens, this place is becoming a microcosm of fascism. Ironic for a place that prides itself on being so liberal, tolerant, and "weird." Remember folks, we're trying to be a model city. Expect to see this crap coming your way soon.

    A Deeply Concerned Austin Resident

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

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:11AM (#29475933) Homepage Journal

    Texas is basically the worst state in the nation for speeding tickets. It got so bad that the state legislature passed a law saying that a given town could only make a certain percentage of its income by writing tickets!

    P.S. A "speed trap" is where you estimate speed based on distance and time. I don't know about Texas, but it's illegal in California. Being parked just behind a speed limit sign which is itself invisible until you are on top of it in Johnson City isn't illegal, it just makes you a big fucking asshole. Texas? Will not visit again, except perhaps for business. Will probably fly right to my destination if I do. Will be very careful about where I spend my money to avoid funding bullshit like what is perpetrated by the average cop in the state. Not that I am in love with cops in California...

  • Re:bad summary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:17AM (#29475963) Homepage Journal

    Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo says he and some of his officers have been harassed, lied about and had their identities falsely used

    These are separate things. And their claims of "harassment" could well be people sharing uncomfortable truths (likewise "lied about") which are inconvenient to the police. I've got no personal beef with the Austin police, but then, I'm (more or less) white.

    You are making assumptions without any basis. If I wanted the identities of a bunch of commenters, could I use tor (or similar) to connect to a website and make comments under my name, then claim they weren't made by me, and get the true identities of all commenters under subpoena?

    Police are licensed gangs. They are not there to protect you. They are there to make sure that the status quo is maintained. That is all.

    Fun, paranoid moment: I had to post the link to the story to my fb twice because the first time, it failed to appear on my wall even AFTER a link I posted 30 minutes later.

  • Re:bad summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jared555 ( 874152 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:25AM (#29475983)

    How do you know they are pretending?

  • From a comment by "gohorns" on The Statesman comment section:

    why do you immediately assume that the people who are posting as police officers AREN'T police officers? Think about it...Acevedo is saying how he is upset that people would get on and pretend to be officers so they can slam the police department. That implies he already KNOWS that they aren't officers. How does he know that? The story says that they would have to subpeona records to get the names. There's no way right now that anyone can know if they are officers or not. What if they ARE officers, and they're using the only way they can to let the public know the truth about Acevedo? No wonder he wants them shut down! He's got a leak he can't plug! It's driving him nuts!

    Methinks the police chief may have internal strife and is incompetent at managing his people.

  • by Jared555 ( 874152 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:28AM (#29476007)

    Is putting 'all of the content of this blog is my opinion even though I have seen some of it happen' against the law?

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

    by bangthegong ( 1190059 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @09:50AM (#29476113)
    Interesting with all that policing and tolerant liberal/progressive do gooders running things Austin can't seem to do anything about the homeless begging at every major intersection even outside the city, and harassing you for change urinating on things, stealing, and generally being a nuisance, if you are walking around downtown. I don't live in Austin but I visit for work and the people are mostly nice but the town they have created for themselves really does suck.
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:14AM (#29476197)

    Let's see, people post on line anonymously, claiming to be police officers, and reporting various abuses.

    The police chief "thinks some could be department employees" - translation, he thinks that they are police officers, or, at least, office employees. Implication - either they are telling the truth, or for some other reason hate his guts.

    "Acevedo said he and other officers in recent months have faced allegations of sexual impropriety and suggestions that they engaged in quid pro quo behavior."

    Translation : he is being accused of having sex with hookers, and letting them go free in return.

    As I see it, accusing someone anonymously of these things is whistleblowing. It should be investigated, but by a third party. As it stands, it appears that the police chief is merely trying to find a legal means of finding and punishing whistleblowers. (Any trial would likely amount to the whistleblower saying, "I saw you and X, Y and Z doing this" and the police chief saying "No,you are lying, and here are officers X, Y and Z all willing to testify that you are lying, too." Good luck to the whistleblower on winning that one.)

    Now, in a reasonable legal system, this would result in a special prosecutor being appointed. Pardon me for doubting that this will occur in Texas. I would be glad to be proved wrong.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:20AM (#29476211)

    Houston, TX's crime rates (homicide in particular) doubled right after Katrina when all the "refugees" came, and hasn't gone back down since. Less than 1/10 of the "refugees" have gone home to the NO area. Coincidence? I find it hard to believe. You can scream "racism" all you like, but if people who were supposed to be here "temporarily" are still in my city committing crimes to this day, I'm gonna be pissed off at them.

  • by paulsnx2 ( 453081 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:21AM (#29476219)

    Yeah, and who decides if people are posting lies?

    We live in Austin, and my 22 year old daughter was studying for her college finals, in her own duplex, and got into an argument with her boy friend. Irrationally, she called the cops, and the boy friend left.

    The cops come, demand to come to look for the boy friend. She refuses, and they end up tasering her twice, arresting her for obstructing an officer in his duty and resisting arrest.

    This because, when they entered her home without a warrant, they refused to let her secure her great dane and she was beside herself that they would shoot the dog (which doesn't like anyone in a uniform). Luckily, the dog did nothing.

    Then for her safety, they released her at 4:30 am in downtown Austin barefoot with no ability to call anyone (you can only make collect calls to land lines, and none of her friends, nor myself, or anyone local she knows has a land line anymore). So I get a call at 5:15 when she borrows a cell phone from a construction worker.

    Perhaps these are the kinds of "lies" the Austin police doesn't like posting. Personally, I wish they were lies. Just like the Grandmother that they tased on hyw 71, there are times when people act like idiots, angry and irrational. But in these situations, it is the POLICE that are supposed to act like trained professionals. If they are not in danger from a person who physically cannot harm them (a 70 year old grandmother, or a 22 year old girl screaming "don't shoot my dog!"), then they have no reason to taser some one. They are going to kill someone, and there isn't any reason for it.

    Oh, I'd post the Police video from my daughter's encounter with the cops. BUT it seems they "lost" it.


  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:23AM (#29476231) Homepage
    Most likely it is his own actions and inactions in disciplining his subordinates that is eroding public confidence. Stifling criticism is the last refuge of incompetents.

    Possibly the chief is doing this "to protect his men" and improve dept "morale" and "efficiency". However, that is corrupt -- he is sworn to protect the public, not his men. And the Texas and US Constitutions, not "efficiency". The simple fact is the Constitutions are designed to limit police efficiency to reduce inhibition and promote happiness.

    Given the rather extraordinary police powers and discretion, perhaps the public should have absolute privilige with respect to criticism. Zero liability for libel and slander. Or at least and entraordinarily high standard of proof even to start a case. Someone needs to watch the watchers.

  • by dex22 ( 239643 ) <> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @10:48AM (#29476363) Homepage

    Or, my experience with APD. Sitting in a restaurant, two APD cops are seated in the booth behind me. They start talking about their new laser equipment and how it's much better than the old radar equipment. One then describes how he likes to inflate speeds by, I quote, "I can easily add 20 miles to the speed of a car." Wow. Just wow. Then, they start talking about the problem of "knowing black people are guilty of something" and using "throwdowns" they'd have taken off people earlier in the evening, and the best places to keep those stashes safe without getting in trouble. Uber wow.

    Obviously, in reporting this, I have something to fear from those officers, so I would be inclined to report anonymously. However, I'm not a chickenshit and am prepared to stand up in court and repeat what I heard, if forced by the police. It's very hard for them to coerce people who are willing to speak openly, and who have access to forums the size of /.

  • so glad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TRRosen ( 720617 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @11:19AM (#29476495)

    Its admirable that this police chief has eliminate all drug trafficking in Austin and put an end to all violent crime thus having the time to spend reading online forums.

    PS I saw him rape a busload of underage retarded nuns while high on crack the other day.

  • freedom of speech (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DragonTHC ( 208439 ) <Dragon.gamerslastwill@com> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @11:20AM (#29476507) Homepage Journal

    Any opinion is protected by the first amendment.

    If the police are trying to silence opinion, that's all the more reason for allowing it.

    These tactics are applied in Iran and North Korea. And now, apparently Austin, TX.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @11:41AM (#29476591) Homepage Journal

    It's a safe bet that he's even more sensitive about tiny penis allegations. There's a reason that so many cops like to carry big guns. My retired state cop sister never carried one of those huge assed magnum cannons - instead, she learned how to hit her target. How many people do you know who have survived a .38 police special hitting center of body mass? I haven't met any, personally.

  • Re:He's A Jerk (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Saturday September 19, 2009 @12:51PM (#29477075) Journal
    No it only applies if a "reasonable person" would take it to be true and of course I'm entitled to my opinion that the sherriff is a tin-pot dictator with delusions of granduer.

    The libel/defamation laws in UK/AU are designed to make infuential people/organisations responsible for the consequenses of false accusations they make in public. Americans might see that as censorship. Like the OP I'm also a British born Aussie and see it more along the lines of enforcing common descency and keeping the highly politicised mass-media on a leash.

    Sir Arthur C Clarke used the laws to force a tabloid to retract allegations of pedophilia against him. He refused to accept his knighthood for the 2yrs it took to clear his name through the courts. However these laws do not apply in parliment, "parlimentry privlage" means politicians can bullshit to their hearts content in the house.

    In other words I can say I think the sheriff is a dickhead and quote him out of context to demonstrate it, but I can't put words in his mouth or lie about his actions. OTOH it's doubtfull a "reasonable person" would accept a random slashdot post at face value.
  • by coats ( 1068 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:19PM (#29477261) Homepage McIntyre vs Ohio: anonymous speech is a Constitutional right. The Austin police chief is trying to break the Law -- in particular, to break the Supreme Law of the Land.
  • by coats ( 1068 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:32PM (#29477337) Homepage
    Lester Maddox earned a well-deserved reputation as an extreme far-right-KKK governor of Georgia. Surprisingly enough, however, one of his first acts as governor was an anti-(town-)government action relates to speed traps. There was one of the small towns in south Georgia, on the route from Atlanta to Florida, which earned the most of its revenue from its speed traps -- speed limit 15MPH and all that sort of thing. I don't recall the name of the town at this instant; let's call it "X". As one of his first acts as Governor, Maddox had billboards erected just outside the town limits:

    You are now entering X, Georgia, famous for its speed traps.
    Please drive carefully! -- Lester Maddox, Governor.

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:34PM (#29477343) Homepage Journal

    Yep... by the time such comments CAN erode public trust in any meaningful way, the boat is already well out to sea.

    If an official has confidence in their own actions and their own department, it makes more sense (and does less to trigger the Streisand Effect) if they just ignore such comments, or direct folks to make their own observations rather than believing hearsay -- then let their actions, and their department's actions, speak for themselves.

  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:39PM (#29477391) Homepage Journal

    Gothmolly points out: "People are posting anonymously because they have no trust in the police."

    Agreed ... and it would be interesting to see if the cops had the balls to arrest someone who posted the same statements under their real name. It's a lot easier to denounce an anonymous 'enemy'.

    "Terrorists are attacking us!! We must stop this!"
    "Which terrorists are these??"
    "Uh, well, nameless terrorists..."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @01:45PM (#29477427)

    How many people do you know who have survived a .38 police special hitting center of body mass? I haven't met any, personally.

    Woah you have a real talent for confusing the issue, first you equate not enforcing immigration laws with permitting child prostitution and illegal drug use, and now you go on to make a classic argument from ignorance. Just how many people do you know who have NOT survived a .38 police special hitting center of body mass? I doubt the number is higher than 5 - a completely meaningless sample size - and far more likely to be zero, which, just in case you were wondering, is not a perfect sample size.

  • Identity fishing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wardish ( 699865 ) on Saturday September 19, 2009 @02:38PM (#29477743) Journal

    As with the majority of lawsuits that need to get the real identity of the poster, this one will not result in little to no legal battles. Generally the idea is to identify the people so that OTHER measures may be taken.

    I'll leave it to your imagination on what Other Measures a Police Chief can use with relative immunity.


  • by sartin ( 238198 ) <> on Saturday September 19, 2009 @06:14PM (#29479219) Homepage

    The Chief is trying to go after people who misrepresent themselves as APD officers and staff online. So this is either sets a whole new standard for failing to RTFA or a gross misunderstanding of the out of context quote:

    "A lot of my people feel it is time to take these people on," Acevedo said. "They understand the damage to the organization, and quite frankly, when people are willfully misleading and lying, they are pretty much cowards anyway because they are doing so under the cloak of anonymity."

    The cloak of anonymity here is that people are claiming to be (sometimes specific) APD officers in online postings, but are not and are hiding behind the anonymity of the place where they make the postings. Poorly phrased and easily taken out of context, but not the the same as going after anonymous posters ragging on APD.

  • Re:Not surprising (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 19, 2009 @08:52PM (#29480047)

    Would you expect a private corporation to do any of those things you listed? Bank of America? AIG? Walmart?

    No, you wouldn't. If those companies had a list a mile long, you still wouldn't because you'd recognize those promises as marketing bullshit.

    Do you not realize that the "municipal police" are private corporations contracted by the municipality to provide the service of statute enforcement?

    So stop buying their bullshit. They have no duty real or imagined to protect you.

    The only people that "fight for truth, justice, and the American way" are your elected county sheriffs and their deputies.

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken