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A New Twitter Bot Will Tell You an Officer’s Name, Rank, and Race By Putting In Their Serial Number

1:02 PM PDT on September 12, 2022

"Excuse me, officer, what's your badge number?"

"Shut the fuck, that's my badge number."

No matter how many times we may be told we have the legal right to learn a law enforcement officer's identity, this actual exchange with an undercover officer arresting us in New York City many years back illustrates a blunt reality: sometimes a cop will do what a cop will do, be it through policy, deceit, "safety concerns," or something else entirely.

And you may not be able to do a damn thing about it at the moment, particularly if you're trying not to escalate a frightening police encounter.

A useful new online tool for those seeking greater transparency with the police has been made available in Los Angeles, potentially increasing the accountability of police who know it exists while arguably creating problems for some officers whose identities are exposed on the online forum.

WhosThatCop is a Twitter bot created by user @NN35007 that allows users to enter the serial number of an officer they've encountered, which then reveals the name of the officer, their job, gender, and race. The new service was brought to our attention on Twitter by the Los Angeles Sunshine Coalition and the activist FilmThePolice.

The bot works simply. A Twitter user plugs in "LAPD:" followed by the officer's serial number, without a space. The breakdown comes back in a reply, showing you who that officer is after saying, "Hi, here's the LAPD officer you were looking for." Which might make it easier should you, say, be trying to file a complaint or, who knows, commend an officer you've interacted with.

Finding the serial number of an LAPD officer is "easy to find out," says L.A. TACO's Investigative Reporter Lexis-Olivier Ray, through straightforward records request through the officer's department. They also have to give you their serial number if you ask for it directly, according to LAPD's policy, but they do not always comply.

The latter scenario does not seem to be the exact point of this bot, showing, as it does, a Muppet-y pig in a police uniform in its profile picture. And readers may question whether these revelations could open police up to doxxing attacks... or potentially worse.

Nonetheless, if you've been mistreated by an officer whose badge is obscured or not present (some law enforcement agencies don't feature numbers on a badge at all, and badge numbers, as opposed to serial numbers, are subject to change), or by one who refuses to share their identity with you, this may come in handy when it comes to later seeking legal justice.

Either way, the bot looks to be taking off quickly, with an admin announcing they're game to come to other cities but are currently trying to work out all the kinks and experiencing "too many requests."

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