The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals that collaborate and take collective action. The Coalition rejects all forms of police oppression and any policy that makes all of us suspects. It has monitored LAPD’s Suspicious Activities Reports (SAR) from the beginning and recently again visited the local Fusion Center. LAPD’s increasing infringement on civil and human rights is reason for revisiting the following column:
Anyone shooting a video, using binoculars, taking notes, drawing diagrams, taking a picture and even looking up at a building can be considered a potential terrorist and placed on a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). Draconian, implausible, unbelievable, yes, but these things are part of LAPD’s anti-terrorist surveillance program since 2008.
On March 15, 2013 LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued its audit of SO1 that addressed the concerns of community members in a in a biased manner. Emphasis was on local procedures rather than the broader consequences of SO1, such as the frightening policing philosophy behind a policy of pre-emptive policing, i.e., elimination of traditional standards of proof required before law enforcement is legally allowed to act.
In January 2008, the federal government launched the Nationwide Suspicious Activities Reporting Initiative (SAR) establishing preliminary guidelines on how “terrorism information” would be collected and shared. In March 2008, former LAPD Chief William Bratton issued SO11, outlining the protocol for filing a SAR. It also listed the types of activities and behaviors LAPD regarded as potentially terrorism-related mentioned earlier.
The stated reason prompting these ideas in intelligence-gathering was that seamless sharing of terrorist-related information would help investigators “connect the dots” and prevent another 9/11. Toward that end, reports of SARs are gathered by various agencies around the country and submitted to a Fusion Center. Fusion Centers are basically hubs that tie local collectors and users of intelligence data to a national information-charting network. SO1 and SO11 train and authorize LAPD officers to gather street-level intelligence and information whenever they assume even potentially innocent behaviors are associated with terrorism. This infringes on privacy and civil liberties, promotes racial targeting and legitimizes spying by local law enforcement that criminalizes innocent behavior.
The suspicion cast on benign daily behaviors and the completely speculative and arbitrary nature of the “reasonable indication” standard is precisely what opens the door for racial targeting and normal activities to be used as a pretext to open investigations and spy on people simply living their lives and abiding by the law. It is important to understand that SO1’s fundamental premise that each and every person is a potential suspect completely contradicts the principle of innocent until proven guilty—in these police encounters, people are guilty until proven innocent.
In October 2009, LAPD launched the iWATCH program promoting community and neighborhood involvement in reporting “suspicious activity” to LAPD. As Political Research Associates noted in their study of SAR, the implication is that iWATCH “encourages the public to file a report even if people are not convinced witnessed behavior is criminal.” The iWATCH tagline, “See Something, Say Something,” in effect, recruits community informants to report perfectly legal activities. In classic misrepresentation, LAPD claims it has not received a single civil rights complaint. How can LAPD receive complaints when people don’t even know that a SAR has been filed on them?
Another study by Political Research Associates, “Platform for Prejudice,” thoroughly examined the National SAR Initiative and LAPD’s SAR policies, in particular: “The SAR initiative reflects the new philosophy called intelligence-Led Policing. The term itself is misleading; Pre-emptive Policing, the more accurate term, emphasizes surveillance and seizures of individuals before a criminal “predicate” exists, raising critical questions about its compatibility with American constitutional principles, such as the presumption of innocence.”
The National Research Council’s, “Protecting Individual Privacy in a Struggle AgainstTerrorists,” concluded that although research and development on certain aspects of the topic (SAR) are warranted, no scientific consensus exists on whether these techniques are ready for operational use at all in counterterrorism. In October 2012, the U.S.Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a highly critical report on Fusion Centers. It found almost $1.4 billion had been spent by the government on Fusion Centers that were seriously flawed, lacked adequate financial oversight and failed to hold officials accountable who reportedly violated guidelines.
In April 2011, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the National Lawyers Guild, following a Public Records Act request, obtained documents that revealed 4,325 SARS were filed from March 2008 to July 2012. During that time, LAPD sent 3,001 SARS to the Fusion Center. Of these, 80% were considered unfounded, yet LAPD and the Fusion Center can keep this information for one to five years. From October 2009 to March 2012, LAPD received 153 iWATCH reports; of these 108 (70%) did not even meet basic standards. The reports also revealed although minimal, 71% of SARS were filed on non-whites.
Blacks were those most targeted group by SARS and should be the strongest voice in demanding an end to this guilty until proven innocent travesty of justice.