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Transcript of BEYOND THE BROKEN WINDOW - Stop LAPD Spying Coalition 2015-04-18¢  the new model amounts...

  • 48 HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MAY 2015

    R E P O R T

    BEYOND THE BROKEN WINDOW

    William Bratton and the new police state By Petra Bartosiewicz

    Assistant chief Paul McDonagh was the man with the unenviable task of ex- plaining the Seattle Police Department’s drone program to the public. In October 2012, a lawsuit by the Elec- tronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the department had secretly purchased a pair of camera-equipped Dragan- flyer X6 drones two years ear- lier. Soon after, McDonagh stood in a local community center before a roomful of citizens who were shouting “shame” and “murderer” and “no drones, no drones, no drones!” One woman, who stood next to a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, yelled, “This is a whole fascistic di- rection that needs to be stopped.” As McDonagh con- tinued with his presentation, the crowd shouted, “Fuck you, Mr. Police Officer” and “You’re full of shit!”

    In the face of this vitriol, McDonagh remained amiable, assuring the room that the drones— which he referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicles”—would be used for in- arguably laudable police work, such as searching for lost children, and not for the surveillance of law-abiding resi-

    dents. But his argument wasn’t helped by the fact that the city had purchased the drones before drafting a policy for their use. It did not matter to Seattle residents that the machines looked more like hobbyists’ toys than planes for tar- geting insurgents from the skies of Af- ghanistan. The drones’ cameras, capable of taking high-resolution photos from

    hundreds of feet in the air, were enough to mark them as part of a growing array of sur- veillance tools deployed by lo- cal law enforcement against citizens. A few months after the meeting, Mike McGinn, Seattle’s mayor at the time, an- nounced that the drones, which had been bought with federal funds, would be re- turned unused to their vendor.

    In his statement canceling the city’s drone program, McGinn insisted that the Se- attle Police Department would remain focused on “community building.” The phrase signaled a continued allegiance to com- munity policing, the dominant criminal-justice model for most of the past three decades. After years of paramilitary-style law enforcement, largely driven by urban rioting in the Sixties and Seventies and by the war on drugs in the Eighties, re- formers sought to repair broken relationships between police forces and the citizens they

    were supposed to be serving. Instead of patrolling streets like an occupying army, police would maintain public safety by engaging with communities. In practice this meant increased foot pa- trols that brought beat cops into direct contact with residents, as well as work- ing groups that fostered dialogue be- tween police and the community. In its

    Petra Bartosiewicz’s “To Catch a Terrorist” appeared in the August 2011 issue of Harp- er’s Magazine.

    Illustrations by Taylor Callery

  • REPORT 49

    FPO AD PAGE TK

  • 50 HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MAY 2015

    most progressive articulation, the phi- losophy discouraged traditional arrest and incarceration models and instead aimed to address crime at the root— resolving a rash of muggings at a dimly lit bus stop, for example, by moving the stop to the front of a twenty-four-hour convenience store.

    The approach gained so much politi- cal currency that the crime bill signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994 created a federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which allocated bil- lions of dollars to hire 100,000 new of- ficers, thereby sweetening the policy’s appeal to local law-enforcement depart- ments that were hungry for manpower. When applied thoughtfully, community policing aims to increase the legitimacy of police in the public’s eyes. Citizens who have a sense of procedural justice, the argument goes, will be more likely to cooperate with law enforcement. But as the community- policing ethos spread throughout the country, it frequently served as a cover for heavy-handed polic- ing of quality-of-life issues.

    After 9/11, the model was seen as insufficient to meet the challenges of domestic terrorism, which was now a major law-enforcement priority, espe- cially in big cities. The grant from the Department of Homeland Security that purchased Seattle’s drones was part of a new policing paradigm that has moved to the forefront of local- law-enforcement strategies. Known in official parlance as “intelligence-led policing,” and referred to by critics as “speculative policing,” the new model amounts to a sharp re- versal of community- policing principles. Surveillance, data mining, and behav- ioral profiling are the methods at the heart of intelligence-led policing. Its arsenal includes cell phone– tracking towers, street-camera systems, GPS trackers, automatic license- plate read- ers, and facial- recognition software. Like McGinn’s drones, much of this equipment comes to police at no cost through federal grants intended to sup- port regional counterterrorism efforts. Under investigative rules that were loosened following the 9/11 attacks, police have broad permission to use such technology against individuals in ways that would have been expressly forbidden in the past.

    Outrage over Seattle’s drone pur- chase represented a rare case of com-

    munity pushback against these devel- opments. It is telling that those drones did not end up going back to their vendor, which refused to accept them. Instead they were passed along, at no charge, to the Los Angeles Po- lice Department. This was fitting, since the LAPD has led the refine- ment of the surveillance state in the urban laboratory. Much of the credit goes to William Brat ton, the former chief of the department, who is cur- rently in his second stint as commis- sioner of the New York City Police Department and is probably the na- tion’s most famous law-enforcement officer. Though once touted in a Time cover story as “a leading advocate of community policing,” Brat ton has in recent years become the most vocal proponent of intelligence-led polic- ing. His tenure in Los Angeles began in 2002, at a moment when local po- lice were being enlisted as the eyes and ears of the government’s domes- tic antiterrorism efforts. Brat ton en- thusiastically embraced the role. To the network of human surveillance constituted by his officers, he added a

    full complement of spy gear. By the time Brat ton left the department, in 2009, Los Angeles had quietly become the most spied-on city in America and a proving ground for corporations to test out new surveillance technologies.

    When the Seattle drones arrived in Los Angeles on a commercial flight last May, there was little pub- lic outcry. Charlie Beck, Brat ton’s handpicked successor as chief of the LAPD, was careful to couch the department’s new acquisition in the language of conciliation. He promised that the drones would not be launched until after a re- view by a team of privacy and civil- liberties advocates. “We’re going to thoroughly vet the public’s opinion,” said Beck. “I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equip- ment.” The drones were placed in a federal warehouse to await deployment.Police spying in Los Angeles goes back to the city’s Red Squads in the early twentieth century, when powerful trade organizations, seeking to thwart

  • REPORT 51

    unionization efforts among the city’s working class, championed a broadly repressive agenda of police surveillance, wiretapping, and infiltration of orga- nized labor by undercover agents. Dur- ing the First World War, police in Los Angeles expanded their focus to in- clude ideological subversion, hunting for radicals and “disloyal” people and groups. By the end of the Sixties, the successor to the LAPD’s Red Squad, the Public Disorder Intelligence Divi- sion, had gathered some 2 million se- cret files over the course of fifty years on all manner of legitimate dissenters, from the Wob blies to antipoverty groups to antiwar protesters. In 1970, the P.D.I.D. spied on students and pro- fessors at UCLA who were suspected of “conspiratorial activities,” and agents provocateurs infiltrated student demonstrations. The target list in- cluded political organizations as well as church and social- welfare groups and charities, categorizing suspect in- dividuals as “controversial,” “agitator,” “anti- establishment,” “anti- police,” or “engaged in protest.” Dossiers were maintained on city-council members and the mayor.

    In 1976, after these programs came to light, the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian panel that supervises the LAPD, ordered the de- partment to destroy its surveillance records, but in 1983 a grand jury found that officers had retained boxes of files and that the P.D.I.D. was still keeping tabs on more than 200 orga- nizations, including the Coalition Against Police Abuse and Citizens Commission on Police Repression. These two groups were part of a civil suit the next year that resulted in a $1.8 million settlement from the city, which forced the LAPD to enter into a consent decree that curtailed some of the worst surveillance practices. After the grand-jury revelations, the P.D.I.D. was finally disbanded, but was immediately reconstituted as the Anti- Terrorist Division, a new unit that spoke to the growing intelligence concern of the department.

    When Brat ton first arrived in Los Angeles, the LAPD was embroiled in a differen