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Editor's Note
by Rick Markley, editor-in-chief

FDNY should halt phone-record subpoena

Ferreting out a whistleblower by subpoenaing phone records does more harm than the whistle blowing

By Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

There are better ways to control the communication going from a fire department to the media than seeking court permission to examine someone's phone records.

That is, of course, what FDNY is doing in an attempt to discover if Battalion Chief Rory Houton leaked two stories to the New York Post.

Both stories in question involved personnel matters, and it is understandable why FDNY leaders would not want that put up for public consumption. Whether it was with or without Chief Houton's help, those stories did get out.

When stories break that an organization believes puts it in a bad light, the best practice is usually to have a fast, honest and accurate response. It is the best way for the organization to regain control of the message and conversation taking place in the media.

The best way to prevent those stories from breaking is to first not make those mistakes; the second is to be a more trusted source for the media than an anonymous whistleblower.

Going after the chief's phone records was a strategic misstep as it keeps the stories going. In fact it creates a new, worse story for FDNY. It is also a misstep because the public is likely to view this move as vindictive and invasive.

Think about it. Which will portray the department in a worse light: one firefighter being hired without completing one fitness test or the department taking on the role of "big brother?"

It is human nature to rally behind the underdog with a just cause and a much larger opponent. It is the reason stories like that of Robin Hood or Star Wars resonate with people. The stories about the founding of the United States and many religions use a similar narrative — they can survive for centuries.

Going after Chief Houton's phone records will damage FDNY's standing within its own ranks and among the civilians it serves. A far better strategy for mitigating the effects of whistleblowers is to be a more trusted source for the media and not to give them anything to blow their whistles about.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Alexander Croci Alexander Croci Monday, July 21, 2014 11:00:58 AM The FDNY has every right to go through phone records of these phones that THEY pay for and issue. Obviously those persons issued these phones must have something to hide. If you are using a government issued phone, you have no expectation of privacy and it's the government's right to have immediate access to the telephone's records. The same applies to government issued computers, PDAs, etc! Stop using your government issued phones for non official business and you will then have nothing to hide!
David McFeaters David McFeaters Monday, July 21, 2014 1:03:10 PM Actually they are trying to obtain personal non work related phone records read the story they obviously wouldnt have to subpoena records for their own phones.. this is why there is such an issue.
David McFeaters David McFeaters Monday, July 21, 2014 1:11:15 PM Read this article the first line says it all. Personal/private phone records not work/issued phone records

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