Police officer privacy, should officers be protected while on duty?

In the workplace, in public or online, privacy concerns everyone, including the employees that monitor and help the public every day - your local police department.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

The Google Buzz privacy flap has created hotbeds of controversy about individual privacy regardless if it's online or out in real life. In the workplace, in public or online, privacy concerns everyone, including the employees that monitor and help the public every day - your local police department. Faced with public policy challenges and often criticism of its practices daily, they go about duties that open themselves up to hazards from all sides during demonstrations, investigations, preventing terrorism, and more. The police in England are turning the tables and asking themselves what privacy do they receive and should its officers have more protection?

Currently the debate is whether or not the surname of a police officer should be displayed on their uniform and be mandatory while on duty. There are concerns regarding security and privacy for the police officer and their families. The other side of the equation is accountability and hiding the officer's name lacks accountability to their constituents. Most if not all police officers in uniform, at minimum, wear a badge number clearly visible while on duty. The BBC reports that police departments across the U.K. have raised concerns that displaying anything creates safety issues for their families  and do not want their names on badges for everyone to see.

Undercover or plain-clothes police officers have identification that must be presented when asked and are shown and handed to any person for inspection during any investigation or questioning of individuals.  In fact, the information contained on the Identification cards details more information than a uniformed police officer is required to even carry while on duty.

FBI Spokesperson Bill (William) Carter said it is mandatory that all of its special agents identify themselves in the course of doing field investigations.  And while there may be privacy concerns for its field agents, the Bureau has no plans on changing its identification policies or procedures. Carter went on to state, that while there has been previous cases where an agents identity has been published on the Internet, including pictures, address and telephone number details, such incidences have not been wide spread. The Department of Justice has been able to obtain court orders deleting personal Agent information.

The Los Angeles Police Department has always had a policy of having its officers display their surname on their uniform. Media Spokesperson Joseph said "it's always been the policy of the LAPD" to have surname identification tags on their uniforms. During questioning or gathering of information, it is routine for them to leave a business card upon completion of any interview with an individual of the public; "We want the community to know who we are." He went on to stay; "If a person is concerned about their own individual privacy being a police officer, then perhaps that individual should look for a different kind of job, since we serve the public every day and they should know who we are at all times".

The New York City Police Department, the largest police force in the world with over 37,000 officers has two different identification protocols for its uniformed officers. Badge number and full name tags to identify its officers are used depending on their rank.  Every day the NYPD faces significant risks dealing with gangs that often are not seen in other parts of the world and therefore special rules and procedures are used for those teams. NYPD has not seen any specific increase in safety or concern to its officer safety because of its policies according to Press spokeswoman Detective Cheryl Crispin. Detective Crispin commented that for many, it is easier to remember a name than it is a badge number.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Policealso display first initial and surname on all officer uniforms. In fact their policy and procedure manuals describe how it should be displayed for different situations and uniforms. Sergeant Gagnon of the RCMP when asked if the RCMP has seen an increased security or safety risk to its officers because of its policy answered "No, it has not". Like the FBI, the RCMP has specific policies officers must produce identification for any questioning during an investigation.

Barbados, a former colony of England, and member of the Commonwealth, has no policy and does not require its police officers to wear any kind of identification that identifies who that person is. How is one to know if he or she is a legitimate and not impersonating an officer for the purposes of defrauding the public? A request for comment was sent to the Royal Barbados Police Department and has not been received.

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