Miami Police Unions Try to Silence Online LEO Affairs Message Board With Boycott
For nine years, LEO Affairs has been a rowdy online meeting spot for anyone in search of the inside scoop on local police, a place where off-duty cops banter about crappy shift supervisors, overzealous internal affairs snoops, and incompetent chiefs (ahem, Exposito!).
That banter has gotten a bit too loose for Miami-area police unions, though. Local union chiefs have sparked a recent national boycott of the site, which they say doesn't do enough to filter "slanderous" and untrue threads. Site owner Chip DeBlock has a different take: "The union leadership is upset that members have a place online to complain about them."
Not so, counters Alex Bello, head of Miami Beach's Fraternal Order of Police. "The threads on that site are unchecked, unverified, and often untrue, and it causes havoc for our members," he says.
Bello, joined by union leaders from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, persuaded a national convention of union heads in Salt Lake City on August 17 to back their local boycott of the site. For three weeks, the union has pressured advertisers and asked members to avoid the online boards.
DeBlock, who is a Tampa-area police officer, founded LEO Affairs in 2002 after a nasty IA probe into his work investigating political corruption made the local news.
"I initially just wanted to educate other officers about their rights," he says. "Then a few months later I added message boards, and the site really took off."
Now, LEO Affairs has individual message boards for more than 500 departments around the country. South Florida's boards are among the most active -- and the most feisty.
Recent posts in Miami's thread include one by "Two Shitheads" asking why assistant chiefs Richard Blom and Ian Moffett still have jobs. Another mocks a beat cop nicknamed "pot belly," and several focus on the unions "bending over" for more budget cuts.
But DeBlock says there is some control over the postings. He appoints volunteer "moderators" from every department who check the site daily and remove any outwardly abusive or libelous posts and anything related to ongoing police investigations.
That's not enough, Bello says. "They're unpaid, voluntary moderators, and they don't do their job," he says. "I've personally called Chip dozens of times asking to remove specific threads and it never gets done."
DeBlock says Bello's motivation has nothing to do with libelous posts, though. "We've had a strong discussion about union problems on the South Florida sites," he says. "Everything from threads about election fraud to political favoritism by the union chiefs to allegations of misspent funds."
Bello and the other chiefs didn't like the blowback with elections approaching, DeBlock says. The Miami Beach union chief disagrees.
"I've never called to ask him to remove something critical of me," Bello says. "My issues have been with posts slandering our members or divulging ongoing case information."
Riptide also spoke with two Miami Beach union members, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. They criticized Bello for not polling union members about the boycott before egging on the national protest, and said the site does more good than harm.
"It's an embarrassment that we're making headlines for spearheading this boycott," one officer said. "I guarantee if Alex was getting praised on these boards, he'd be the number one supporter of LEO Affairs."
Either way, it's not clear how much effect the union's boycott will really have. Bello says he has personally talked several advertisers into dropping off the site.
But new posts pop up every day in the South Florida threads, and DeBlock says he has seen no evidence that local cops have stopped reading or gossiping.
"The Miami board is still the most trafficked on our whole site," he says.
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