Officers' Site Sinks Into Outlet for Attacks

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006

What's up with the cop in Silver Spring who's ratting out colleagues? That was the question raised by a police officer who started a thread on the online message board of the Montgomery County police union on July 15, 2004.

Within minutes, a flurry of responses began pouring in to the site, one of many online forums that have changed the way police gripe and gossip.

They called the African American officer in question a "rat," a racist and a lazy cop who needed to "be put in her place." Then her husband -- the department's former diversity training teacher, who was brought in after the agency came under scrutiny over allegations of racial profiling -- was dragged into the online onslaught.

"Let him jump out and scream profiling at me on a traffic stop," a writer identified only as "Irish Cop 4 Life" wrote. "The only profile he's going to see is mine driving him into the pavement by his racist skull!!!"

The message board was designed as a forum where officers could trade tips, complaints and light banter. But several officers say it has become an outlet for personal attacks -- often laced with racist language, sexual harassment and disparaging remarks about police supervisors, county leaders, immigrants and residents.

Copies of the messages from the password-protected Web site provided to The Post provide a rare glimpse of some officers talking among themselves. The authenticity of the messages, posted from 2004 to this year, was verified by officers with access to the site.

The officer attacked in July 2004 was Cpl. Sonia Pruitt, identified on the site not only by her name but also her professional particulars: badge No. 1134, Silver Spring station, central business district. She said the attack stemmed from a misunderstanding of an innocuous episode involving an officer she believed did not follow proper procedure during an arrest.

The threat about her husband would have been jarring in any context, Pruitt said. But coming from one of her colleagues -- only Montgomery County police officers have access to the forum -- it was downright bloodcurdling.

"Who's to say a guy with a gun wouldn't hurt my husband on a traffic stop?" she asked.

Officers concerned about what they describe as a spate of increasingly odious exchanges say union leaders and police supervisors have largely ignored their complaints. The union president said the site is deliberately uncensored, but he said he discourages its use as an outlet for personal attacks, harassment and racist language.

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said he has known for some time that some officers were unhappy with the message boards, but he said he was unaware of the nature of the offensive threads until a reporter read him a sample.

"I'm very disappointed to know that we have a handful of employees that would write some of the things that are written in this forum," Manger said. "I know it does not reflect 99 percent of our employees. I will not tolerate any unlawful or improper conduct by any police department employee in the course of their duties."

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