Police Denounce Website
- Police denounce area Web site that rates officers' performanceArticle Launched: 03/25/2008 11:15:57 PM PDTCULVER CITY - Armed with a laptop and the names of tens of thousands of police officers across the country, a Southland entrepreneur is raising the ire of law enforcement with an online, five-star rating system similar to those used for teachers.
Less than a month old, RateMyCop.com has gotten 100,000 hits a day, with users leaving comments - good and bad - about their interactions with cops, founder Gino Sesto said.
He runs the site out of his two-bedroom home and said he thinks it's a fair way to hold law enforcement accountable.
"If you are doing a good job, what do you care?" he said. "I would shut it down tomorrow if they had a way to digitize complaints and put them online. We can get the voting records of our senators, we can get a copy of the 1040 for George Bush. This has the ID of officers and the name. So what is the problem?"
But police organizations across the country have denounced the site, arguing that it endangers officers' safety and is ripe for misuse.
"Law enforcement should never be trivialized, and this appears to do just that," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.
"The concern is for the safety of law enforcement personnel. If that can be compromised in any way, this shouldn't be done."
The site appears to be perfectly legal. Even the Los Angeles Police Department's union, which two weeks ago sent a note to its 9,600 sworn members in response to concerns about the names of officers being posted, admits that ratemycop.com has the right to obtain the information.
So far, Sesto has posted more than 500 agencies on the site, from Los Angeles to Miami to Dallas. But he doesn't pretend to be a champion of free speech or a cop-hater. Instead, he just wanted to build a site that would attract tons of people - and maybe make a few bucks.
In addition to running the site, Sesto, 37, is a flight instructor on weekends and works full time in advertising. RateMyCop.com was merely a side venture to keep him busy. The idea came to him over dinner with a friend when they were swapping ticket stories.
"I thought, `Wow, why not have it so people can give feedback on police officers?' Everyone has the conversation."
So he and his girlfriend began sending out request letters to 1,000 agencies, asking for officer names. He posted them on a searchable site where users provide ratings based on fairness, satisfaction and authority.
Some posts are malicious, like this one about a North Carolina highway patrolman:
"... bald redneck chewing tobacco. making a quota on the 28th day of the month, he says i wasn't wearing my seat belt. SO WHAT!! we are so fortunate in Salisbury NC that there is no real crime."
But others praise officers like Sgt. Wayne Guillary of the LAPD's Northwest Division: "Proud to be a citizen of Los Angeles with a police force like officer Guillary."
Guillary had been tasked with crowd control at a Scientology protest when somebody caught him on video giving instructions and posted it on YouTube.com.
The 20-second video - in which he tells protesters it's their right to be out there and encourages them to stay on the sidewalk - prompted more than 25,000 hits to his name on RateMyCop.com.
"I was a little surprised because that is just me every day," Guillary said. "But people are always going to be able to look at you and access you. We live in a technological society."
His motto is to always be professional. That way there is nothing to worry about.
"People see you doing a good thing, it's positive," he said, noting he has no objection to RateMyCop.com. "And it brings a positive note to the agency."
But others believe it could ultimately put law enforcement in danger, making it easier for some to find out information about families.
"The California Police Chiefs Association is totally opposed to the Web site RateMyCop.com," Jerry Dyer, president of the association, said in a statement, adding that he is working on legislation to block it.
"The CPCA's first and biggest concern is the safety of our officers: publishing the names of officers and their agency could allow anyone to access personal information, via the Internet, about that officer and/or their family, without their knowledge, placing the officer or their family in grave danger. Secondly, officers who are rated face unfair maligning without any opportunity to defend themselves."
When RateMyTeacher.com was launched in August 2001, it immediately caused controversy among teachers who thought it was unfair.
Since then, more than 11million users worldwide have rated about 1.4million teachers at nearly 54,000 schools, according to the Web site.
A similar site launched in France called note2be.com was banned this month by the country's court system after the educators union filed a grievance, saying it was "an incitement to public disorder."
Thomas Griffith, a USC law professor who specializes in police issues, said while other sites that rate teachers and restaurants are fine, one for police officers is different.
Unlike restaurants and college professors, people can't choose their officers. And because there are separate complaint issues, it provides no accountability.
"A mechanism with unconfirmed reports that can be over-praising or condemning is not the best way to ensure accountability," he said.
Sesto said he hasn't been filtering comments before they go online but plans to. And he has pulled some comments.
But as it is now, to leave a comment, users have to sign in to the site, leaving their name and e-mail address.
He estimates that at least half of the site's users are officers and that a few might even be posting nasty comments about their colleagues. But at least one officer inquired about getting business cards from the site that he can hand out while giving tickets.
"Really," Sesto said, "I don't know why people are so taken aback."
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
Following are comments on individual LAPD officers sent to RateMyCop.com. The Daily News has withheld their names.
"(Officer) was extremely professional and it was his calm demeanor that defused a potentially dangerous situation."
"I liked him from the instant that he drove up to my home after a car crashed through the fence and into my yard about 15 years ago. Even my mom met him. Her only comment was: `If I was only forty years younger.' She was 81 at the time."
"I was traveling down the road with my student driving and he did not make a full stop... This officer was so nice and explained the reason for full stops and answered questions from my student. He did not give us a ticket and he was so awesome!"
"(Officer) needs more training. I train the young deputies at the Men's Central Jail and I want to tell you, he wouldn't last with the Sheriff's Department."
"This so called `gang' officer routinely harasses the young citizens of this fine city for no good reason."
"(Officer) is a sick man who has a habit of putting false info in his written reports ... He has also singled out African American officers for retribution and humiliation. (Officer) is a real cancer to the LAPD!"
Copyright ©2008 Los Angeles Newspaper group