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NYPD Denies Edits to Eric Garner, Sean Bell Wikipedia Entries Were Made at Its Headquarters

Edits made to pages linked to the deaths of Eric Garner and Sean Bell were among dozens of changes traced to 1 Police Plaza.

by Arijeta Lajka
Mar 13 2015, 11:20pm

Photo by Eric Risberg/AP

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The New York Police Department Friday denied that edits made to Wikipedia entries containing details of alleged police brutality were made on computers located at its headquarters at 1 Police Plaza, New York. 

On Thursday, Capital New York reported that edits to Wikipedia pages related to the deaths of Eric Garner and Sean Bell at the hands of police in New York, were among a host of entries that were traced back to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses registered to the NYPD's server.

On Friday, a police spokesman told VICE News New York that officers may have edited the entries, but if they did, they did so on computers outside of police headquarters.

"These incidents did not originate from computers located at Police Headquarters," spokesman Stephen Davis said. "We are conducting an internal investigation to identify what member of the service may have accessed the department's server."

According to Capital New York's report, dozens of Wikipedia users working on the NYPD server reportedly made edits or tried to delete pages on topics ranging from police shootings to the department's controversial stop-and-frisk program. The pages of several high-level political and police figures has also reportedly been altered. The users also made several other changes to entires unrelated to police work, including to a page about British band Chumbawumba and another on American actress Susan Sarandon.

Some of the changes made to one entry titled "Death of Eric Garner," were allegedly made on December 3, 2014, just a few hours after a grand jury failed to indict the officer who put Garner in a fatal chokehold.

In one revision, police allegedly changed, "Garner raised both his arms in the air," to "Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke."

In another, the sentence, "Use of the chokehold has been prohibited" was edited to read: "Use of the chokehold is legal, but has been prohibited."

The editors also added: "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them," to the description of the incident.

One user whose IP address linked back to 1 Police Plaza also allegedly attempted to delete the Wikipedia entry titled "Sean Bell shooting incident" on April 12, 2007, five months after the unarmed man was gunned down by officers in Queens, New York. The user argued on Wikipedia's "Articles for deletion" page that: "[Bell] was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore."

"The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable," the user added.

Wikipedia is a free online forum where users can anonymously create and edit entries on any topic or person online. A team of more than 80,000 volunteers then reviews the pages and edits and mediates between contributors when there is a dispute.

Wikipedia did not immediately return requests to comment Friday, but states in its behavioral guidelines that "[conflict of interest] editing is strongly discouraged."

Capital New York provided a full list of anonymous Wikipedia edits linked to NYPD IP addresses in a Google document.