Dead trooper Internet e-mail hoax
|By Janon Fisher and Dick Lavinthal |
(NEW YORK) -- It's a new Internet hoax that rings true to many in law enforcement, a moving testament by a Virginia State Trooper who was reportedly killed two short months after writing it.
It's an e-mail chain letter that decries double standards in the ways that some members of the public regard law officers.
And lately it has been making the rounds in law enforcement circles across the country.
The problem is not the message, in any of its forms, but the messenger. He didn't exist.
The allegedly slain Virginia State trooper named at the bottom is as real as a sky hook and Virginia State Police are still trying to find the source of this newly-minted urban legend.
Part social critique part, part bitter harangue, the essay, alternatively called "The Police," "Mr. Citizen," "The Lousy Cop" and "The Great Police Officer," runs through a series of hypocrisies that law enforcement officers endure in performing their duties for an ungrateful public.
"Well, Mr. Citizen, it seems you've figured me out." the essay begins. "I seem to fit neatly into the category where you've placed me. I'm stereotyped, standardized, characterized, classified, grouped, and always typical."
The essay goes on, "From birth you teach your children that I'm the bogeyman, then you're shocked when they identify with my traditional enemy -- the criminal. You accuse me of coddling criminals. Until I catch your kids doing wrong."
The 15-paragraph piece concludes with a kicker that makes the irony all that more bitter.
"The author of this article was Trooper Mitchell Brown of the Virginia Sate Police. He was killed in the line of duty two months after writing the article," it states at the bottom.
That's where the problem begins.
"We've never had a Trooper Mitchell Brown die in the line of duty. We've never employed a trooper named Mitchell Brown," said Claire Capel, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police.
The Virginia State Police Newsletter tells troopers that
the trooper who "wrote" the letter never existed
"It's just one of these things that circulates over the Internet. We've never been able to run down the original source," she said.
Nevertheless, something in the message transcends authority; something about it rings true with law enforcement across the country.
It's latest appearance was yesterday on LEANALYST and several times earlier on POLICE-L two law enforcement discussion groups on the Internet. The Usenet group, "alt.prisons," has also had messages regarding the open letter. One posting was even found by PoliceOne.com in rec.autos.makers.ford.mustang.
When the Internet was searched for pages that include the message, the search engine, "Google," returned more than a hundred pages with the essay on it.
One Web page that features the "trooper's" letter
On some urls the poem is attributed to "Anonymous" or "Unknown." One webmaster claims that a deputy sheriff's wife wrote the lines. Many attribute the poem to the mythically late Trooper Brown.
A veteran officer from Texas forwarded the letter to PoliceOne.com, hoping that we could find a place to publish it. because the open letter seemed almost too compelling to be true PoliceOne.com decided to verify it.
That Texas officer was very surprised to get a phone call from the PoliceOne.com newsroom stating that the letter he sent to us was a hoax.
"You read it and it's just something that rings true. I've been doing this for 18 years and I can see it happening. Every police funeral I go to... the officer has small children, the wife is pregnant or has a small child. It's par for the course," the officer told PoliceOne.com.
The lawman, whose name we withheld, called the poem "like the icing on the cake," he said. "It says at the end that he was killed two months after. That's just the way it goes in this business."
Craig Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund told PoliceOne.com today that the public is not as critical of police as the letter implies.
"I think there is more public support of law enforcement than this poem gives credit. More than two million Americans stepped forward to donate money for the building of national law enforcement officer's memorial," Floyd said.
Floyd is also sensitive to officers' complaints. "The bottom line is the theme that I've seen many times and that is we expect so much from our officers. We often criticize them but when we're in trouble we expect them to be there."
"They are doing so much, giving up so much. Yeah I can understand when they wonder if it is all worth it," Floyd told PoliceOne.com
But the Texas lawman wasn't the only person to be fooled.
One Denver newspaper columnist apparently had his reporter's radar turned off when he let the powerful message slip through without fact checking.
In Dec. 1999 Denver Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson wrote about the essay, placating an officer who had criticized the journalist for being too hard on the police.
A Denver cop had taken the columnist to task and Johnson replied in print by saying, "Yet people like me he says--cop-haters who get to speak to vast audiences--jade the public, which never fully recognizes or appreciates the good ones." The officer included the essay with his note to the journalist.
"Yes it is, I think, a dandy piece of prose. Quite haunting too," Johnson wrote on Dec. 1, 1999.
But Johnson never checked out the story. Two days later he acknowledged that the story was a fake, but he argued the message behind it still rings true.
"I wish there were a Trooper Brown," he wrote, "Not because I'm ashamed he doesn't exist but because there are thousands of cops out there who would have written the exact same thing. And because the message of The Lousy Cop now is no less valid," he write on Dec. 3.
PoliceOne.com had left several voicemail messages for Johnson yesterday but we have been unable to get in touch with him.
Alex Rudd, administrator for the POLICE-L mailing list, told PoliceOne.com that Christmas Day 1997 was the first time that the suspect testament appeared on his Internet mailing list.
"At the top of that message, though the poster disclaimed writing it, the poem was attributed to someone named 'M.B. Elliott' and did not include the part about the Virginia Trooper at the bottom. This first version was entitled "Me, the Lousy Cop," Rudd told PoliceOne.com in an e-mail yesterday.
Some members commented on it and then, nine months later it reappeared, still not attributed to the non-existent trooper, according to Rudd.
In April 2000, like Haley's Comet, the poem returned to the list, now entitled "THE GREAT POLICE OFFICER," Rudd said. An August 2000 posting never made it to list distribution because of a posting error by the user, Rudd said.
LEANALSYT has hundreds of members. The mailing list concentrates on crime analysis issues. The user who forwarded "The Lousy Cop," also copied it to POLICE-L; topcops-lhome.base.lsoft.com; univpd-llistserv.acsu.buffalo.edu and to a Florida sheriff's detective.
The detective told PoliceOne.com yesterday that he never read the message and regularly deletes without reading e-mail which appear to be chain messages or which have attachments that could contain viruses.
Among government Internet domains to which this message has either been sent or from which it has been passed on appear to be the U.S. Department of Justice (usdoj.gov); the IRS Criminal Investigations Division (ci.irs.gov); and the National Institutes of Health.
Virginia State Police are still looking for the author of this letter and whomever may have created the mythical trooper Brown. If you have any of the answers please be sure to e-mail editorpolice.one.com or call us at 415-695-2445 after first calling the Virginia State Police Public Affairs Unit at 804-674-2197.
Copyright 2000 PoliceOne.com. This report may not be copied, forwarded or republished in any form, except that Web sites may copy the lead paragraph verbatim as long as it is then followed by a hyperlink to the PoliceOne.com homepage, http://www.policeone.com.
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