A wise old sergeant once told me, “If you want everyone to like you go join the fire department. Around here you are going to make some people mad.” T hat’s important to remember even if you work in a job where you don’t have direct public contact. To some, you are the enemy just because of where you work. And whether you are a clerk, dispatcher or a sworn officer, there's a good chance someone is currently sitting in prison with fantasies of somehow making a violent statement against the San Diego Police Department.
So why is watching your back so important?
On Oct. 31, 1985, Los Angeles Police Detective Thomas Williams was shot to death while picking up his 6-year-old son from school. The 42-year-old detective had just come from the San Fernando courthouse, where he testified in the trial of a robbery suspect. Apparently the suspect followed Detective Williams to the school. As Detective Williams was placing his young son in the car, the suspect drove up and opened fire with a Mac-10. In the split second before Williams was shot eight times he ordered his son to duck. The boy was spared. Detective Williams died instantly. The 13 year LAPD veteran was survived by his son, a 17-year-old daughter and his wife.
On October 22, 1987, Honolulu police officer Troy Barboza was off duty and sitting in his living room when a drug suspect he had previously arrested went to his home and killed him. The suspect fled to San Diego but, with the help of detectives, he was returned to Hawaii under the premise of making another drug deal. He was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. It’s likely the killer used a public records search of property transactions to locate Officer Barboza.
In August of 2012, Herbert Proffitt, the retired chief of police for the Tompkinsville Kentucky Police Department, was standing in his driveway when he was shot and killed by an 81 year old man he had previously arrested multiple times as far back as the 1980’s. It was a small town so the crook already knew where the chief lived.
In other cases the Internet played a big part.
On March 19, 2013, Tom Clements, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, answered a knock at his door of his home. He opened it to find a man in a pizza delivery uniform. What he didn't know was the man had stolen the uniform off a delivery man he had murdered. The suspect pulled a gun and fired directly into Clements. He died at the scene.
Two days later, Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist, and former Colorado inmate suspected of murdering Clements, died in a shootout with police in Texas. Ebel’s prison record showed he had spent most of his time behind bars in solitary confinement due to behavioral problems. Several media outlets commented that Clements address was easily located on the internet and Google images even showed photos of his home.
As recently as March 31, 2013, Kaufman County (Texas) District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife were found murdered in their suburban Dallas home. The killing was two months after the murder of Kaufman County Assistant D.A. Mark Hasse. At this point it's not known if the killings are related or how the suspect(s) located them.
So just who is collecting information on you? In short, everyone. If you have purchased a home it is listed at the county recorder’s office. So is your marriage license. Ever filed anything in civil or family court? That file is open to anyone who wants to look. Even credit reporting agencies such as Trans-Union, Experian and Equifax have two sides to them. Once side houses your credit information and the other side sells your information.
Now we know it can happen, what can we do?
You shouldn't be paranoid but stop helping the enemy. For some strange reason people who pull their blinds down to preserve the privacy in their own home will post every single detail of their personal life, including where they work, on Facebook. As if they are somehow safe just because they click “private.” Refer to paragraph one as to why relying on Mark Zuckerberg to protect your privacy is a bad idea. Assume everything you post on Facebook can and will be read by someone out to harm you.
Next: Google your own name. If information coming back is something you wouldn’t be comfortable with a violent parolee having, it’s time to get aggressive.
Before you do that however you need to realize the system is only as smart as you have taught it to be. So change the game. Provide it with information you are ok with releasing. A lot can be accomplished by obtaining a PO Box and making that your official address for EVERYTHING. The information being placed on these websites isn't magically appearing. Often times it comes from you whenever you fill out product warranty cards, enter a contest, or, for that matter, anything else that asks for your name, DOB and so on. That information is then packaged and sold and you ultimately find it on the net.
Visit privacyforcops.org. It is a fee based, online nonprofit website run by cops that works to help remove your name from the public databases that are now proliferating the net.
While we cannot completely remove ourselves from the public eye, just being wary of what all is out there, and not advertising what we do, can go a long way.
Who you don't know may kill you
Ignorance is not only bliss, it can also be deadly. In January of 2010, Facebook founded Mark Zuckerberg commented, "The age of privacy is over." That seemed like a fine concept until a hacker bypassed the privacy controls on his Facebook page and posted several personal photos over the internet. Word is Mr. Zuckerberg wasn’t happy.
We live in a golden age – at least if you are nosey, a stalker, or just someone who seriously needs to get a life. When it comes to finding out everything about someone, what used to require a lot of innovation, time and energy, can now be accomplished simply by sitting down at your computer and knowing what website(s) to visit.
Suddenly a stalker - or worse yet, an unknown enemy vowing revenge - can have your entire life's details within a matter of minutes. Sadly, we often play right into their hand and provide every little morsel they're looking for.