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National police union urges boycott of controversial police website LeoAffairs.com

The national Fraternal Order of Police union is urging its members to boycott the website LeoAffairs.com, which allows police officers to vent about everything from criminals to their own union leaders and chiefs.

Florida Fraternal Order of Police president Jim Preston confirmed that the national organization approved the resolution during a conference in Utah on Wednesday, which follows an earlier decision by the Florida union to pass a similar resolution.

Preston, a co-founder of the website, said the resolution began because "a couple of the members from Miami Beach felt that it was detrimental to our organization."

He said union officials complained that "their own people were posting things on the website that talked about active investigations, labor negotiations, that talked about the leadership" of the union and other issues. He declined to give his own opinion on the resolution, which called the website "controversial, divisive, and harmful to FOP business."

LeoAffairs.com's organizers boast that 500 law enforcement agencies in 18 countries use and benefit from its pages of career-related information. But its most popular feature is the chat room, where, behind screen names, users sling opinions and merciless gossip about police work.

In 2005, a judge denied a Hills­borough Sheriff's Office request to learn the identities of anonymous posters who made unsavory comments about the agency on the site. An attorney for the Sheriff's Office said he wanted to depose some posters to learn about cases they criticized, but the site's lawyers said the intent was to silence critics. An appeals court agreed.

In 2004, a top St. Petersburg police official asked the website to shut down a chat room devoted to the department because of what he said were critical and racially tinged comments. The website refused.

Chip DeBlock, a Tampa police officer who also helped found the site, calls it an "officers rights" website. He said the idea was to give police a forum for discussing important issues, "exposing problems without the fear of persecution or reprisal."

Asked if this was a case of people in power trying to stifle criticism, DeBlock said: "That's certainly what the troops think, and that's certainly what's being related to me."

DeBlock said LeoAffairs has "terms of use" and that inappropriate comments can be deleted by moderators.

"I'm disappointed (about the vote), not because I believe the boycott will be successful but because I think the FOP has decided to ignore these cries of help from its members," DeBlock said.

St. Petersburg Detective Mark Marland, president of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, said not everyone has always been a fan of the site. He doesn't visit it.

"When it first came out, you heard people talk about it, but now you don't hear that much," Marland said.

Marland said part of the problem with the site is that he doesn't know who's actually posting on there, or whether they're actually police officers.

"You don't know who is typing on there," Marland said.

Times staff writers Jamal Thalji and Luis Perez contributed to this report.

National police union urges boycott of controversial police website LeoAffairs.com 08/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 11:42am]
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