Why are NYPD changing Wikipedia entries on controversial police action?

Members of the NYPD may have edited multiple Wikipedia entries regarding controversial police action.

Richard Drew/AP/File
The NYPD internet network at One Police Plaza was linked to multiple changes and edits made on the Wikipedia pages of controversial police altercations.

Computers on the New York Police Department’s network have been used to change the Wikipedia pages of multiple cases of controversial police brutality, according to Capital New York.

Using the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of One Police Plaza –NYPD’s headquarters location – Capital was able to link multiple changes to Wikipedia pages. The addresses were used to determine the location of a computer when it connects to the internet. According to the report, 85 NYPD IP addresses have been used to alter Wikipedia pages pertaining to police leadership, stop-and-frisk, and NYPD scandals, as well as the well-known victims of police altercations including Eric Garner, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo.

Is it acceptable for the NYPD to update Wikipedia pages in which there may be a conflict of interest?

Many of the edits made are subtle, changing the wording and structure of the sentences to portray the events in a different light. For example, after a Staten Island grand jury ruled not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner’s death, a user on the network reportedly made multiple edits to the “Death of Eric Garner” Wikipedia page.

One such edit included changing the phrase "Garner raised both his arms in the air" to "Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke." Another edit included changing pushing "Garner’s face into the sidewalk" to "Garner’s head down into the sidewalk." Another sentence—"Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them"—was added to the entry.

"The matter is under internal review," an NYPD spokeswoman, Det. Cheryl Crispin, wrote in an email to Capital.

Anyone can make edits to a Wikipedia, either anonymously or with a username. In order to track anonymous edits, Wikipedia assigns them a profile based on their IP addresses, enabling users to track all edits made by the One Police Plaza network.

After Capital New York broke the story, the Twitter handle @NYPDedits was created to keep track of all future edits made on the network. Thus far, the profile has over 770 followers but has yet to tweet. Others have taken to Twitter to express their frustration.

While Wikipedia enables anyone to edit and contribute to pages, they strongly discourage editing pages in which there may be a conflict of interest, which they define as “an incompatibility between the aim of Wikipedia, which is to produce a neutral, reliably sourced encyclopedia, and the aims of an individual editor.”

“COI editing is strongly discouraged. It risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and groups being promoted, and if it causes disruption to the encyclopedia, accounts may be blocked,” Wikipedia’s page states.

Whether or not the NYPD’s editing of the pages is a true “conflict of interest” will be for Wikipedia to decide.

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