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Web Site Causes Unease in Police

July 12, 2003 -- William Sheehan does not like the police. He expresses his views about what he calls police corruption in Washington State on his Web site, where he also posts lists of police officers' addresses, home phone numbers and Social Security numbers.

State officials say those postings expose officers and their families to danger and invite identity theft. However, neither litigation nor legislation has stopped Mr. Sheehan, who promises to expand his site to include every police and corrections officer in the state by the end of the year.

Mr. Sheehan says he obtains the information lawfully, from voter registration, property, motor vehicle, and other official records. But his provocative use of personal data raises questions about how the law should address the dissemination of accurate, publicly available information that is selected and made accessible in a way that may facilitate the invasion of privacy, computer crime, even violence.

Larry Erickson, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, says the organization's members are disturbed by Mr. Sheehan's site.

"Police officers go out at night," Mr. Erickson said, "they make people mad, and they leave their families behind."

The law generally draws no distinction between information that is nominally public but hard to obtain and information that can be fetched with an Internet search engine and a few keystrokes. The dispute over Mr. Sheehan's site is similar to a debate that has been heatedly taken up around the nation, about whether court records that are public in paper form should be freely available on the Internet.

In 1989, in a case not involving computer technology, the Supreme Court did allow the government to refuse journalists' Freedom of Information Act request for paper copies of information it had compiled from arrest and conviction records available in scattered public files. The court cited the "practical obscurity" of the original records.

Nevertheless, once accurate information is in private hands like Mr. Sheehan's, the courts have been extremely reluctant to interfere with its dissemination.

Mr. Sheehan, a 41-year-old computer engineer in Mill Creek, Wash., near Seattle, says his postings hold the police accountable, by facilitating picketing, the serving of legal papers and research into officers' criminal histories. His site collects news articles and court papers about what he describes as inadequate and insincere police investigations, and about police officers who have themselves run afoul of the law.

His low opinion of the police has its roots, Mr. Sheehan says, in a 1998 dispute with the Police Department of Kirkland, Wash., over whether he lied in providing an alibi for a friend charged with domestic violence. Mr. Sheehan was found guilty of making a false statement and harassing a police officer and was sentenced to six months in jail, but served no time: the convictions were overturned.

He started his Web site in the spring of 2001.

Last year, in response to a complaint by the Kirkland police about Mr. Sheehan's site, the Washington Legislature enacted a law prohibiting the dissemination of the home addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and Social Security numbers of law enforcement, corrections and court personnel if it was meant "to harm or intimidate."

As a result, Mr. Sheehan, who had taken delight in bringing his project to the attention of local police departments, removed those pieces of information from his site. But he put them back in May, when a federal judge, deciding on a challenge brought by Mr. Sheehan himself, struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Fred Olson, a spokesman for the state attorney general, Christine O. Gregoire, said the state would not appeal Judge Coughenour's decision.

"Our attorneys reviewed the decision and the case law," Mr. Olson said, "and they just felt there was very, very little likelihood that we would prevail on appeal. Our resources are much better used to find a legislative solution."

However, Bill Finkbeiner, a state senator who was the main sponsor of the law that was struck down, said the judge's opinion left little room for a legislative repair. He said he was frustrated.

"This isn't just bad for police officers and corrections employees," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "It really doesn't bode well for anybody. Access to personal information changes when that information is put in electronic form."

Lt. Rex Caldwell, a spokesman for the Police Department in Kirkland, said his colleagues there were resigned to Mr. Sheehan's site, and added that much of the information posted on it was out of date. He said some officers even welcomed the posting of their home addresses, if that encouraged Mr. Sheehan to visit.

"If he wants to drop by the house," Lieutenant Caldwell said, "the police officers would be more than happy to welcome him. We're all armed and trained." -- Edited and excerpted from the article by Adam Liptak in the New York Times

William Sheehan's bio at his website is short:

"This site is owned and operated by myself, a veteran of the US Navy. I'm not giving out my name any more BECAUSE the cops harass me, not the criminals. Nice huh! At least it gives my site credibility."

Police Officer's Talk About Probe by FBI Not Protected Speech 
October 23, 2003 -- The First Amendment does not protect a police officer who goes outside the chain of command in discussing police corruption issues because he is not engaging in "protected speech," the 3rd Circuit has ruled. The court held that the suit, brought by a Pennsylvania state police officer who said he suffered retaliation for telling a high-ranking officer about an FBI investigation of corruption, should have been dismissed. -- The Legal Intelligencer in

-- a little gem from The Onion
Read "I'm Sorry, But I Only Date Men My Friends are Afraid Might Kill Me."

Detroit Police Officer Tries to Hide Gun at Canadian Border, Shoots Himself

July 3, 2003 Windsor, Canada -- A Detroit police officer accidentally shot himself in the leg when he tried to hide his gun after his car was pulled over by Canada Customs while crossing from the US border.

Officer Michael Allen, 22, and three friends were heading to Casino Windsor around 2:30 AM Monday when a customs officer at the Ambassador Bridge directed the off-duty Detroit police officer to take his car to the inspection area.

After parking the car, Mr. Allen is believed to have pulled his .40-calibre Glock pistol from either a waist holster or concealed leg holster in an attempt to hide it under the car's front seat. The gun discharged, firing a bullet through a bone in Mr. Allen's leg.

Allen was taken to hospital where he underwent an eight-hour operation, where he is reported to be in good condition. Customs seized the gun and his vehicle. Allen's three friends were sent back to the US.

The Detroit officer is facing numerous charges under the Criminal Code and the Customs Act, although none have yet been filed. Windsor police said he should have simply checked the gun in and picked it up on the way back. -- Edited and excerpted from the article at

Japanese Policeman Caught Photographing Up Woman's Skirt With Hidden Camera

August 13, 2003 TOKYO -- A policeman in western Japan is facing disciplinary measures after he was caught photographing up a young woman's skirt with a hidden camera while on duty. The 42-year-old unidentified police sergeant used a digital camera to surreptitiously snap the shots when the woman was reporting a stolen bicycle at his station in the western city of Takarazuka. The woman became suspicious after she saw a flash go off. She later reported the incident to prefectural (state) police.

The sergeant has admitted to the accusations and is expected to face disciplinary action. The police spokesman said that the camera was not police property. Newspapers reported that police will ask prosecutors to charge the sergeant with violating public nuisance laws, but the spokesman said the punishment was still under consideration. -- Canadian Press (AP)

West Side Crime Statistics Were Softened, Police Say

In New York City's West Side, more than 200 crimes, mostly thefts and robberies, were improperly downgraded in police statistics to misdemeanors, making the area seem safer on paper than it really was. -- Full story at the New York Times

Guilty Verdict in Mountie Murder Trial

Brandon Manitoba, June 13, 2003 -- A jury found Robert Sand guilty of first degree murder in the slaying of RCMP CST. Dennis Strongquill, while his girlfriend, Laurie Bell, was convicted of manslaughter.-- Edited from the article at Article archived at Criminal Minds.

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