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Over the past several years, anti-poor, economic, and anti-immigrant pressures have reached an alarming high in Los Angeles. Through the criminalization of poverty, homelessness and migration, those at the furthest margins of society are increasingly displaced and incarcerated. Los Angeles has also been the center of the U.S. government's "anti-terrorism" effort and has served as a staging ground for "national security" programs that threaten human rights and civil liberties.
The Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order 11 (SO 11) is the lead model of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) initiative launched in 2008. SO 11 trains and authorizes LAPD officers to gather street level intelligence and information based entirely on "observed behavior." Such purely, and/or largely subjective and arbitrary police action signals a "surveillance industrial/governmental complex" at the local level. Through SO 11, LAPD and the Department of Homeland Security have established a vague and ambiguous reporting system combined with vague and virtually unlimited authority. SO 11 solidifies a system that normalizes racial profiling and places the brunt of repressive policies on Blacks, other communities of color and immigrants.
SO 11's fundamental premise is that each and every person is a suspect, hence, a threat to national security. It codifies "suspicious activities" through a LAPD, Suspicious Activities Report (SAR) that documents "any reported or observed activity or criminal act, or attempted criminal act which an officer "believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism," which is downright scary.
Here are excerpts from LAPD Special Order on SAR, APPENDIX B: "Information reported in a SAR may be the result of observations or investigations by police officers, or may be reported to them by private parties. Incidents (over 40 listed) which shall be reported on a SAR include the following: "Engages in suspected pre-operational surveillance (used binoculars or cameras, takes measurements, draws diagrams, etc.); appears to engage in counter-surveillance efforts (doubles back, changes appearance, evasive driving, etc.); engages security personnel in questions focusing on sensitive subjects (security information, hours of operation, shift changes, what security cameras film, etc.);
"Takes measurements (counts footsteps, measures building entrances or perimeters, distances between security locations, distances between cameras, etc.; takes pictures of video footage (with no apparent aesthetic value, i.e., camera angles, security equipment, security personnel, traffic lights, building entrances, etc.); in possession of, or solicits, sensitive event schedules (i. e., Staples, Convention Center) " , etc., etc......." God forbid!
SO 11 also strengthens the development Fusion Centers-hubs which tie local collectors and users of intelligence data into a national information-sharing network. Seventy-two Fusion Centers had become fully operational as of spring 2010. Various groups, including the ACLU, have researched the negative impact of this policy and found Fusion Centers have the effect of "deputizing every state and local enforcement officer to be an intelligence collector for the intelligence community."
By criminalizing innocent behavior, SO-11 eviscerates individual rights and privacy. The reach of LA's manifestation of the national SAR initiative extends well beyond the communities typically perceived to be affected by misplaced fears about "terrorism," ( i.e., South Asians, Muslims, Arabs). It has great potential for negatively impacting and further criminalizing various marginalized communities, including Blacks, other communities of color, immigrants, homeless and low-income individuals. Furthermore, SO-11 reverses the premise of innocent until proven guilty by reporting and documenting innocent activity based on "reasonable indication" rather than "reasonable suspicion."
The best way to combat the ongoing expansion of domestic surveillance and criminalization of innocent people is a multi-pronged approach, highlighting the issue, thereby igniting action by impacted communities. An effective campaign will include rigorous research, community education and coalition-building on the scope and impact of SO-11 and ultimately, organizing and advocacy to rescind SO-11. This means deconstructing and dismantling the dangerous idea that safety can come at the expense of constitutional guarantees, human rights and human dignity. The research should trace SO-11's legal basis as w ell as funding streams and collaborate with others around the country working on this issue. SO 11 can be overturned through education, community organizing, political activity and directly engaging community members who have been detained, harassed, searched, jailed or imprisoned for simply looking a certain way or engaging in legal activities and behaviors.
This is not the first time LAPD has engaged in high suspect intelligence gathering and surveillance activities. Strongly reminiscent of LAPD's "Red Squad" and its prominent role in the infamous COINTELPRO, SO-11 not only has the potential to disrupt and criminalize daily activities, but sets new standards in policing that significantly erodes civil liberties, individual rights and transparency in government. It uses anti-terrorism funding and pervasive fear to justify the criminalization of normal human behavior, including taking photos of public buildings and other benign and legal activities.
SO 11 is yet another deeply insidious tool in a trend towards a virtual police state under the mantle of public safety and "anti-terrorism."
This is an edited version of information submitted by Hamid Khan: e-mail:
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail