Article first published as The New Sunshine: Wikileaks for Police on Technorati.
The world of news continues to polarize, with multinational corporations merging small news outlets into increasingly fewer information monoliths. Corporate America determines, in its sole judgment, what becomes news and how it is covered. Average citizens, finding their intellectual freedoms compromised, have responded by becoming journalists. Bloggers, like dandelions, cannot be entirely eradicated.
A new day is dawning, and its sunlight promises to be the ideal antiseptic for one of society’s oldest problems – police corruption and brutality.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) was the first agency to feel the burn. A deputy, disgusted with the corrupt leadership of both the department and its corollary union, started a sort of cop Wikileaks.
To the certain dismay of county leaders, there is an anonymous, minimally moderated website at www.pbsotalk.com which invites anyone to post anything they want. The site includes a document portal where anyone with an internet connection can pull up copies of internal affairs reports and other relevant documents. Communication is wide open, frank and empowered. It’s invigorating just to read, this unfettered speech from people with skin in the game.
I stumbled upon the PBSO site while following up on the story of Mr. Fiddlesticks (or Fuddlesticks). He’s the Renton, Washington police officer who became an unintended whistleblower when his department overreacted to his anonymous cartoons. Unlike Renton’s City Hall, leadership in Palm Beach apparently realizes that they can’t permanently shut down all communication. There is no law against hosting an anonymous message board, or having opinions about local government.
This writer and the creator of the PBSO site, united in our commitment to ethical public service, have joined forces in support of Renton personnel. We have created a Renton message board where anyone can post their thoughts without fear of retaliation. An anonymous Renton officer said it best:
The problem as I see it is that those videos were made by someone who obviously wants good change in an ethical direction and wants the officers to hold themselves to a higher standard, as they should. Citizens should demand their officers be of a higher standard than, say, some shady guy who isn’t very honest. In addition, they lied on a warrant to bust a cop. If they will do that to their own, the people should be scared … because they won’t hesitate to do it to a citizen.
Corrupt local bureaucrats who run their communities like fiefdoms take note. Establishing the Renton board took less than three hours. Personnel began posting on it almost immediately. Though officers have been threatened with harsh penalties for participating, they continue to vent.
When citizens begin to understand what this means to their democracy, they will become empowered by police officers, firefighters and paramedics who see the man behind the curtain. The first people to notice that a police officer has an anger problem and mistreats citizens will surely be co-workers. Allowing officers to let the light in can only bode well for us all.