Cop Road Rage on the Information Highway - Technology and Communications -

Cop Road Rage on the Information Highway

The Internet spawns police incivility



Valerie Van Brocklin | Thursday, January 19, 2012

I’ve previously written about officers making headlines with indiscreet postings on their social networking sites and the resulting disciplinary actions, firings and public mistrust of police. In most of those instances, the officers had privacy settings and their comments still got out.

Read more: 

Here I’m writing about public cop comments. This is the first in a planned three-part series. This article examines what, where and possibly why we’re seeing cops post public comments on the Internet that have more in common with gansta rap than civil discourse. Future articles will discuss whether such comments are firing offenses and violate the profession’s Code of Ethics, and what, if anything, the profession should do.   

Why Care?
Last October, a Florida trooper’s video camera footage of her high speed, Code 3 pursuit of a local police officer speeding in his patrol car to get to an off-duty job ended up on YouTube. The incident generated a clash in public Internet comments from police and citizens.

Covering the fray, the Miami Herald reported, “On the LEO website used by law officers, one person posted: ‘Please know tonight that citizens across this country are reading your posts … I support law enforcement but am telling you now that you are and will lose in the court of public opinion on this issue if you continue to debate this in open forums.’’’

If citizens that support the police are expressing concern over what cops are saying publicly, we ignore this issue at our peril.

Public opinion encompasses:

  • Judges and jurors determining officers’ credibility in criminal cases.
  • Community trust -- or not -- and the resultant officer safety.
  • Community support -- or not -- and the implications for law enforcement funding and resources.
  • Whether policing is seen as a “profession” and the attendant implications for recruitment, hiring, retention, training, salaries and public opinion (repeat above).

A New Norm of Expression?
Experts opine that what the police do and the way they do it reflect the values of the communities in which they exist.

A society of free speech can be messy. Our history is punctuated with Congressional fist fights and duels, a Civil War and civil unrest. That said, uncivil expression seems to be rising.  

  • “Road rage” -- aggressive or angry behavior that might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe manner or making threats -- was coined in the 1980s.
  • “Gangsta rap” aggrandizing violence, profanity, sex, misogyny, homophobia, and racism -- amongst other evils -- was popularized in the same decade.
  • School shootings and suicides resulting from the extreme incivility of bullying have risen in prominence.
  • Name calling is daily news fodder in bipartisan bickering and political campaigning amongst our elected representatives.

Incivility -- “rude, boorish, uncouth, discourteous” behavior by police officers is also finding increasing public expression on the World Wide Web.

Cop Road Rage on the Information Highway

Following is a sampling of comments from law enforcement Internet sites that purportedly come from officers (based on their “handle,” icon, express statement in the comment, or all three).

Arguably, some could be posted by trolls. In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online forum with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or otherwise disrupting the conversation.

Indiana University: University Information Technology Services (2008-05-05). "What is a troll?" Indiana University Knowledge Base. The Trustees of Indiana University. Retrieved 2009-03-24.

I don’t believe even a significant number of the comments I reviewed or include here were posted by people pretending to be cops. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

This sampling is small because of space limitations. For the same reason, not all comments are included in their entirety. Search the Internet and you can find countless more of similar content and tone. It’s painfully easy.

An article about a seat belt violation traffic stop that resulted in a complaint inspired:

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Valerie Van BrocklinValerie Van Brocklin is an internationally sought speaker, trainer and author who combines a dynamic presentation style with years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor.


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