By Sheryl Estrada
Edits made to Wikipedia entries describing events surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, including allegations of police brutality, have been linked to computers on the New York Police Department’s network.
The edits tried to make the details of the events appear friendlier to police officers involved.
Capital New York reports that the changes—and even attempts to delete some entries—were linked to computers operating at 1 Police Plaza through a series of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Eighty-five NYPD addresses that have edited Wikipedia pages were identified.
The same day a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death, several edits to the entry “Death of Eric Garner” were traced to a user on the 1 Police Plaza network.
Capital says changes included:
- “Push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” was changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.”
- “Use of the chokehold has been prohibited” was changed to “use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited.”
- Instances of the word “chokehold” were replaced twice, once to “chokehold or headlock” and once to “respiratory distress.”
As of March 12, three of these edits (“chokehold or headlock,” “respiratory distress,” and “head down”) remained in “Death of Eric Garner” article, while the rest had been removed in later Wikipedia users’ revisions.
Capital reports a user with an NYPD IP address attempted to delete the Wikipedia entry “Sean Bell shooting incident.” On Nov. 25, 2006, Bell was killed when undercover NYPD officers fired 50 times at three unarmed men.
Also, on Nov. 23, 2013, a user at 1 Police Plaza made two edits to an entry for Diallo, an unarmed man who was killed when police mistook his wallet for a gun.
“Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed man was shot, but remained working as a police officer” was changed to “Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an armed man was shot.”
Edits were also made to NYPD scandals, information on the departments Stop and Frisk policy, and the bios of prominent figures in the city’s political and police leadership.
NYPD spokeswoman Detective Cheryl Crispin told Capital the changes are under an internal review.
Wikipedia has become a go-to website for general knowledge about a topic or event, or a starting point for research. It’s the sixth-most-visited website in the U.S. and seventh globally.
The Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia, describes it as “the world’s largest and most popular encyclopedia.” The site has been “added to and edited by millions of people during the past twelve years: anyone can edit it, at any time.”
For that reason, there’s no guarantee the information is up-to-date or even accurate. One does not need to be an expert in a certain field to post gathered facts. And if someone so desires, he or she may even provide misinformation.
Using a permanent Wikipedia log of edits made via NYPD IP addresses, Capital wrote a computer program that would search the site for all anonymous edits made with IP addresses registered to 1 Police Plaza.
Click here for a list of every NYPD IP address with anonymous Wikipedia edits.