EDMONDS, Wash. - A public forum meant to help Edmonds neighbors get to know a pair of potential candidates for the city’s next police chief was interrupted by hackers yelling curse words and inserting highly offensive imagery.
It’s often called Zoom-bombing when strangers infiltrate an online forum often using crude and obnoxious language.
The latest incident has the mayor of Edmonds concerned what happened may have been a hate crime.
While some life goes on as normal in downtown Edmonds, other activities once held in person are now happening all online.
That is what happened Monday evening. Sherman Pruitt, the current chief of the Sauk-Suiattle Police Department joined last night’s candidate forum.
Both Pruitt and the city’s acting police chief Jim Lawless are under consideration for the department’s top spot.
“Last night’s panel was a way for the public to participate,” said Alicia Crank, who also watched the event.
The first candidate she heard was Pruitt, but the event soon went off the rails. Invaders yelled obscenities and bombed the meeting with pornography and racist imagery.
“It was very offensive,” said Crank, who mentioned the forum’s administrators then made sure the agitators were out of the meeting before the next candidate spoke.
“You have to give Edmonds credit for adapting to the times,” said cybersecurity expert Bryan Seely.
He says Zoom-bombing has plagued both schools and private enterprise since so many are now working remotely, but completely eliminating trolls from public forums may be impossible.
"Edmonds is doing what they’re supposed to,” he said, but adding they could ensure visitors to future forums gain access only after appearing in a digital waiting room, and making sure an event administrator polices the meeting.
Edmond’s Mayor Mike Nelson asked the city’s police department to investigate what happened as a criminal matter and planned to reach out to the FBI for help. In a press release, he added that options for future meetings that eliminate racist attacks while encouraging public participation.
Crank agreed saying something must be done to cut down on the abuse.
“We need to provide safeguards, and bring them into safe spaces to be able to have these interactions in the first places,” she said.