CINCINNATI, OH — The hacking group Anonymous Anon Verdict released a video Sunday targeting the Cincinnati Police Department.
In the aftermath, Cincinnati police are elevating their awareness level when it comes to personal security, yet trying to not make a big deal out of the handiwork of a hacker group. The last thing police said they want to do is give credibility to a so-called “hacktivist” group known as Anonymous.
In a YouTube video over the weekend, Anonymous warned it would data dump as many officers as it sees fit, meaning it would release their names, addresses, phone numbers and family members.
In the video, someone wearing a mask discusses the group’s anger over the department’s handling of a deadly officer-involved shooting in Westwood.
The group then posted online personal information about more than 50 Cincinnati police officers, including Police Chief Eliot Isaac. As of 4:30 a.m. Monday, the information had been taken down.
“When their addresses are put out in the public, that’s a concern. I know that we have a section working on that to try to knock down whenever our addresses are put out in a public place like that and that’s what the police administration is doing about this,” Fraternal Order of Police president Sgt. Dan Hils said.
The case that prompted this hack took place Wednesday when witnesses said Paul Gaston became erratic after crashing into a pole. When police confronted him, investigators said Gaston initially complied with officer’s orders but then failed to comply with officer’s commands and reached to his belt to grab a gun.
That’s when officers shot him. The gun turned out to be an Airsoft pellet gun.
Anonymous claims Gaston did comply and cites another shooting in Mount Healthy the day prior where a man pointed a gun at officers but was taken into custody.
But videos taken by two witnesses shows Gaston reaching into his waistband rather than lying on the ground as he was ordered.
The Anonymous video goes on to compare Gaston’s shooting to the cases of John Crawford and Tamir Rice.
WLWT News 5 has chosen not to share that video.
Cincinnati police said officers were made aware of the information breach.
“This happened in Ferguson. It’s happened elsewhere,” said Capt. Michael Hartzler at the Greater Cincinnati Fusion Center.
Hartzler said cyber analysts were trying to track the origin and were working with federal partners on it.
He would not comment on whether the hacking was locally-inspired or coming from elsewhere.
Chief Eliot Isaac showed cell phone video and a picture of the realistic-looking gun he says Gaston started to pull from his waistband to defend the actions of his officers.
“I can’t deny that there is a heightened sense of awareness,” stated FOP President Sgt. Dan Hils when asked about the rank-and-file reaction. “But that’s it.”
Hils said the group’s intent is to rile police and create division in the community, something he said he would not participate in by making it seem like officers were fraught with worry.
Others spoke publicly so that police would know they are supported.
“These are officers who have spouses and kids and the emotional abuse is probably the biggest toll,” Mayor John Cranley said.
As for the suggestion that the police shooting was murder, Council Law Committee Chairman Chris Smitherman bluntly stated, “Even the reason or the premise of why they believe they’re taking this action is absolutely outrageous.”
Smitherman alluded to the cellphone video that shows Gaston reaching toward his waistband. He also referenced the gun that turned out to be fake, but appeared realistic.
“Reasonable citizens out there understand that our officers need to respond with a sense of force to make sure that they go home safe,” Smitherman said.
Next Monday, city lawmakers will scrutinize security at all city facilities and the hacking episode will be at the top of their minds.
“We’re seeing our officers in uniform and out of uniform across the country being targeted. So, this is very, very serious. We’re taking it very serious and we want to make sure our officers are safe,” said Smitherman.
Hartzler added the security elements of the data drop cannot be taken lightly.
“For those who may have a grudge or have some other kind of intent, the officer’s names, addresses are all out there for public view,” he stated.
Police were advised last year — in the wake of potential targeting of law enforcement and government workers by ISIS — to be cautious about social networking.
Some took their accounts down.