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08-03-06, 04:12 PM #1
City policy restricts website access tying Investigator's hands
VENICE -- When Detective Eric Hill got a tip a Web site might be advertising local prostitution, he sat down at his police department computer and began his research.
But the sexually explicit information on the popular Web site Craigslist prompted the city's security settings to block him from the site -- a scenario that plays out frequently in the Venice Police Department.
While most law enforcement agencies allow at least certain investigators free rein on the Internet, Venice has a blanket policy that blocks all employees from accessing Web sites with potentially offensive words or phrases.
"We took a fairly aggressive stance," City Manager Marty Black said Tuesday about the Internet policy implemented in 2004 to more closely monitor and restrict employees' Web activity.
Police can get temporary access to specific sites by calling the city's information technology office and requesting that a specific Web address be unblocked for a period of time. But it's a step most other area investigators don't have to take.
"It's not a great system, but it's better than nothing," said Detective Sgt. Mike Treanor, a spokesman for the Venice Police Department and supervisor over the detective's bureau.
The policy is designed to help protect the city's computer system from viruses and also to prevent employees from getting into trouble, says Lance Heiss, the city's information systems director.
"We don't want anybody to go there by mistake or what have you," he said about employees visiting sites with questionable material.
Before 2004, police had no restrictions, Black said.
Law enforcement officers across the country have been disciplined for misusing their work computers, including viewing and downloading pornography. Some have even faced criminal charges for downloading child pornography.
In 2002, five Charlotte County Sheriff's Office employees were found to have viewed pornographic Web sites at work. Three were suspended without pay, and two resigned before findings were released.
Black points to less egregious examples of misuse by police here, including logging on to sites such as ESPN.com for recreational use.
But it was a misconduct by former utilities employees, which was outlined in a 2002 internal report, that prompted Black to more aggressively monitor computer use.
While unblocking one Web site, like Craigslist, with the sexually explicit posts, is an relatively easy fix, other times access isn't as simple. Often police need to browse a variety of sites to gather information about drugs, guns or the illegal sex trade.
"That would really tie our hands as far as law enforcement," said Lt. Chuck Lesaltato, spokesman for the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, where certain investigators have full Web access.
In Venice, department heads are supposed to monitor workers' use by viewing monthly reports, Black said.
In addition to the restricted sites, the city's policy also forbids employees from using Web sites, such as eBay and travel sites, for personal or recreational use, even on breaks.
While other law enforcement agencies don't have the same blanket restrictions, officials say they still closely monitor officers' activity.
"They know that all of their key strokes are recorded and can be and are monitored," said Staci Cross, director of technology for the city of Bradenton, which allows certain investigators full access to the Web.
08-03-06, 04:42 PM #2
Well of course; we don’t want our police officers looking at all that bad stuff.
Oh sure, of course it has some to do with the job; a likely story.
Ain't politics great?
We are the thin blue line
and all the money in the world.
And no you can't have any.
08-03-06, 05:23 PM #3
So they're saying that if they get a call from a previously reported robbery victim, and they say "Hey my neighbor has my stuff, he's selling it on eBay" that the officer can't even check it out? And that's not even a drastic example.
What a crock. Criminal activity on the internet is on the rise, and the admins aren't even letting cops try to do anything about it. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.\\` ` ` ` < ` )___/\
`` ` ` ` (3--(____)
"...but to forget your duck, of course, means you're really screwed." - Gary Larson
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