Officials Block Online Forum

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Montgomery County officials have blocked access to a police union message board from county computers after a public outcry last week triggered by disclosure of sexist, racist and anti-immigrant messages that some officers have posted on the board.

"Because of the destructive effects these anonymous postings have had, I will no longer permit access to this site through county-owned computers," Police Chief J. Thomas Manger wrote in an e-mail to the force Friday night.

Anyone who tried to access the password-protected forum on the Web site of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police found a message similar to the one that pops up when county employees try to access gambling or sexually explicit pages.

One of the first people who tried unsuccessfully to get on the site was County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who met with union President Walter Bader yesterday to discuss the future of the forum.

"When we tried to go there, it had been blocked," Leventhal said.

In an interview yesterday, Bader condemned the vitriolic messages, copies of which were published in The Washington Post on Thursday. He said that he knew some officers were unhappy with the forum but that he didn't realize the hurtful nature of some of the messages.

"I take full responsibility for this Web board," said Bader, who was traveling abroad when the controversy erupted. "But individual users are responsible for their own postings."

Bader said union leaders have been trying to come up with guidelines to better monitor the forum, which officers use to trade tips and criticize managers and departmental policy.

Over the past two years, union leaders have been discussing possible parameters to monitor the forum more closely without making it unattractive to officers who might be unwilling to speak frankly if they can't post anonymously, Bader said. The subject was expected to be addressed during a union board meeting last night, he said.

"This is going to be an evolving process," the union leader said, adding that discussions about monitoring the board have "moved at a snail pace" and perhaps "didn't get the priority they should have."

Manger said he had known that some officers found the board problematic but realized the offensive nature of some postings only when contacted by a reporter.

"Some of the comments were, in my view, disgusting," Manger wrote in the e-mail to the department. "I find consolation in knowing that the vast majority of Department employees also found the messages offensive."

Several officers said they spoke publicly about the postings after futile attempts to get the union to control the board and department supervisors to decry the personal attacks and offensive messages.

In some postings, officers were called racists, Latino immigrants were referred to as "beaners" and a black female officer was called a "ghetto" officer.

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