November 8, 2005

Web Site Legally Posting Police Officers' Home Addresses Raises Safety Concerns

Staff Reporter of the Sun

With at least one Web site legally posting the home addresses of 79 New York Police Department officers, concerns are mounting that such information could find its way into the wrong hands.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a former Democratic mayoral candidate whose district straddles Brooklyn and Queens, said the Internet should be used for purposes such as research, not as a bulletin board for posting personal information that could subject police officers to harm.

"It is one thing for a public official, a congressman, for example, to have his contact information be made public," Mr. Weiner said at a press briefing yesterday. "That's one of the costs of being a public official." But posting personal details about a police officer online, he said, "is there for one reason, to intimidate and in some cases to harm those officers."

The congressman pressed for the passage of the Secure Access to Justice and Court Protection Act, which includes a provision he co-authored with Rep. Louis Gohmert, a Republican of Texas, designed to ban personal data about police officers, court officers, and judges from the Internet.

The bill would make posting personal data of officers and judges as a federal crime, but only in cases where a motive of malice could be established.

The bill also calls for a $20 million grant program for court security improvements and a $20 million program for witness protection. The House is expected to vote on the bill this week, Mr. Weiner said. A companion piece of legislation has already passed in the Senate.

The Court Protection Act was born in the aftermath of the murder of the family of a federal judge from Chicago, Joan Humphrey. Mr. Weiner linked the deaths to the fact that the judge's home address and family photographs had appeared in chat rooms on the Web.

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said he supported the legislation because it would provide a mechanism to protect officers and their families. The personal postings put "our family members in jeopardy," Mr. Lynch said.

When the communications director of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Robert Mladinich, found out that his name was posted on a Web site, he said he was "disheartened."