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Internal probe by police yields 'hate-filled' e-mail

March 28, 2001

An internal District of Columbia police investigation found several hundred officers exchanged hundreds and hundreds of e-mail messages full of "vulgar, profane and hate-filled" language, a senior police official said last night.

A routine audit of about 4 million electronic messages sent between computers in patrol cars found inappropriate messages containing "very foul and vulgar language, a lot of which had to do with racism and other pejorative comments," Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer told The Washington Times.

The racist messages, many containing the n-word, were sent between black officers, while others were directed at suspects by both black and white officers, Chief Gainer said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it's 10 percent of the department — 350 officers," Chief Gainer said.

The messages also contained sexual comments about female officers and other women, and some content was derogatory toward homosexuals, Chief Gainer said.

"It was very diverse in its hate and anger and bias," he said.

Chief Gainer reviewed a sampling of the audit last Thursday, discovered the problem and ordered the office of professional responsibility to conduct an investigation. A police official then leaked some of the inappropriate messages to WTTG-TV (Channel 5), which reported the problem last night.

No one has been disciplined yet, and the investigation will take about 30 days.

The full revelation of the investigation could have a major impact on the department and many officers.

"There was more than we ever dreamed there could be," Chief Gainer said. "Clearly, quite a few officers" were involved.

The content of the messages may show some officers were involved in racial profiling, Chief Gainer said.

"There's a clear indication to us that we may have a problem with that with some of our officers . . . based on their own phobias," he said.

"Chief [Charles H.] Ramsey and I were sickened by it," Chief Gainer said. "[We] hoped that in the year 2001, we had gotten past a lot of that. We can't tolerate this. We condemn that kind of activity. Hate and anger and bias and prejudice is not what we stand for."

Chief Gainer said the department has a "very vigorous investigation in the words and conduct of officers."

Investigators, with the help of computer consultants, will be able to determine which officers sent which inappropriate messages. Every mobile data terminal requires a unique log-on name for an officer. Using words deemed inappropriate, police will use a keyword search of all messages and then determine which officer used them.

After that, investigators will retrieve the entire electronic conversation — messages sent back and forth — to understand the context of the messages.

When this is done, Chief Gainer said, "We'll have to look at this in the long-term. What is behind this? What's the underlying cause? Training? Hiring? Is it cultural?"

Officers are supposed to use the computers to run criminal background and driver's license checks, or communicate with each other about police-related activities while on patrol.

Chief Gainer noted that "a large majority [of the messages] were in a very legitimate course of business."

By John Drake, THE WASHINGTON TIMES, © 2001 News World Communications, Inc


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