If you work at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, when you are taking a break at work (unless you are driving, say, a patrol car), with rare exceptions, you may use a department computer to log on to Facebook, check out the latest video going viral on YouTube, buy some new shoes on Zappos, bid for some Springsteen tickets on eBay, read the latest news on the LA Times website, Huffington Post, Drudge, Wired, Breitbart, the LA Weekly or LA Observed.
But, reportedly, as of February 22, at most LASD work stations you may no longer access WitnessLA.
Since September when we launched Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails investigation into the systemic problems in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, WitnessLA began drawing a significant readership from the ranks of those who work for the department, a readership that has continued to grow. Deputies logged on from their home computers, their PDAs and, in lots of cases it seemed, from some department computer or other.
LASD folks came in the beginning (we presume) to read our investigative reports on the department and related topics but, as time went on, they also came to participate in—or simply to observe—the ongoing conversation among department personnel, working and retired, in WLA’s comments section. The exchanges are lively, sometimes angry, occasionally snarky, quarrelsome and gossipy, but nearly always very informative
We knew that department personnel were reading us from their workstations because WLA subscribes to a very good tracking service (in addition to Google Analytics) that allows us to observe and analyze reader patterns and the like. Thus we can see when people log in from the LASD system—as they did, by the hundreds.
Then on Wednesday February 22, we began getting emails from deputies and supervisors telling us that WitnessLA had been blocked on LASD computers that could formerly accessthe site.. After these messages reached critical mass, I checked the tracker, and sure enough the log-ins from the LASD IP addresses fell off a cliff late on that Wednesday in February.
There was still a trickle coming through on Thursday, but even that was gone by Thursday evening.
We waited a week, thinking it might be a momentary glitch, but according to a slew of department sources, the block never came off. After months of being able to access WitnessLA, the ability to pull up our URL was precipitously shut down, while most other websites were available as usual.
Our electronic measurements showed the same thing that the deputies continued to report.
It should be noted, by the way, that Wednesday Feb. 22—the day deputies reported that they could no longer get on the WLA site—-was also the day that both the LA Times and the Daily News reported that LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina had, the day before, introduced a motion at the Supes’ meeting prohibiting county managers from soliciting campaign contributions from their underlings, and that she cited WitnessLA as part of the reason. Specifically, Molina told reporters that her motion had been triggered by concerns she felt after reading WLA’s reports on an alleged pay-for-play promotions scheme being overseen by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
Sure, it could be just a coincidence and all, but the peculiarity of timing could not help but catch our attention.
In any case, yesterday when I asked Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore about the fact that WLA was reported blocked, he said he wasn’t aware of any such action, and that deputies might be talking about computers that don’t have Internet access at all.
I explained that, no, that the people who contacted us said that they used to be able to access WLA regularly without a problem, but that since that particular Wednesday in question, access had been cut off, while most other sites were available as usual. I also told him that I had my own electronic record that showed months of very high traffic from certain LASD IP addresses—to the tune of hundreds of hits per day—and then none at all.
Whitmore said I seemed to be implying that WitnessLA was blocked specifically.
“Uh, well, yes,” I said. “That is what I’m implying.”
“I don’t believe that to be true,” Whitmore said. “WitnessLA is not something that this sheriff’s department is all that interested in. It’s not that relevant. It’s not on our radar. I’m not sure the sheriff knows what it is.”
So there you have it.