On December 3, the Wikipedia article on the death of Eric Garner read in part: "Garner raised both his arms in the air and was then put in a chokehold from behind by officer Daniel Pantaleo." Later that day, it changed almost imperceptibly: Garner didn't just raise his arms, he flailed them, and Pantaleo's takedown may have been a headlock, not a chokehold. The subtly pro-cop edits didn't come from some impartial third party, but an IP address registered to the NYPD. They weren't the only ones.
A Capital New York investigation into Wikipedia edits made from inside the NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza reveals several other incidents of apparent department employees attempting to alter articles on police violence or erase them entirely. One user working from a police IP address posted the following message to Wikipedia's "articles for deletion" page regarding the entry on Sean Bell, who was killed in 2006 when NYPD officers fired 50 shots at him and two other unarmed men:
He was in the news for about two months, and now no one except Al Sharpton cares anymore. The police shoot people every day, and times with a lot more than 50 bullets. This incident is more news than notable.
Fortunately, the suggestion to get rid of Bell's page was not taken seriously, and the article still exists. But later, another NYPD user changed the entry to read "one Latino and two African-American men were shot at a total of fifty times" instead of "shot a total fifty times."
Capital documents many other instances of edits to NYPD-related articles—including pages on stop-and-frisk and the Amadou Diallo killing—as well as several that don't have to do with policing at all. One worker apparently changed the article on the band Chumbawamba; another attempted to erase an entire section on "Allegations of police misconduct and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)." (The CCRB is NYPD's internal mechanism for handling civilian complaints.)
According to Capital, notable edits came from about a dozen NYPD IPs. Many times, the Wikipedia community was quick to revert the changes, but the story goes to show that the encyclopedia—which can be edited anonymously by anyone with an internet connection—is ripe territory for disseminating propaganda.
Months later, at least one NYPD edit to the Garner article still lives on the page. Previously, the article read that Pantaleo used his hands to "push Garner's face onto the sidewalk," but after the police IP got to it in December, it reads "push Garner's head down onto the sidewalk."
The difference doesn't seem like much, but consider that the very first Google result for "Eric Garner"—victim of the most notorious case of NYPD violence in recent memory—now contains language placed by someone within the NYPD itself.
A police spokesperson told Capital the matter is under internal review.