LAPD gets new guidelines for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’

The L.A. Police Commission has approved rules for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’ that offer some safeguards against racial profiling and reporting of activity protected by the 1st Amendment.

 

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere in this country, fear of enemies in our midst — be they Communists, trade unionists or foreign terrorists — too often has led to violations of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Given that history, civil libertarians and members of the Muslim community were right to press the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that a program designed to detect possible terrorist activity doesn’t cast suspicion on individuals whose only “offense” is to exercise their right to free speech or belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.

 

The result is an amended set of guidelines approved by the city Police Commission for the handling of “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Though the new guidelines don’t go as far as the American Civil Liberties Union would like, they make it less likely that police will record the identities of persons whose conduct is neither criminal nor reasonably suggestive of possible terrorist connections. That’s an important step forward.

 

So-called SARs are controversial because they are not limited to criminal activity; they can also be filed if a person behaves in a manner that, while legal, may be suspicious — such as abandoning luggage in a railway station or taking photographs of a power plant.

 

The new policy reaffirms that racial profiling has no place in documenting suspicious activity, provides for regular audits of the SARs program and proposes a community advisory board to help ensure against abuse. The policy advises officers against reporting activity generally protected by the 1st Amendment “unless additional facts and circumstances can be clearly articulated that support an officer’s or agency’s determination that the behavior observed is reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.”

LAPD to alter policy on data possibly related to terrorism

Reports on suspicious activity determined to be harmless will be deleted. They had been stored in a database for a year, sparking fears that the information could wind up with the federal government.

In the face of privacy concerns, the Los Angeles Police Department has agreed to change the way it collects information on suspicious activity possibly related to terrorism.

The department, after coming under fire from civil liberties and community groups, will no longer hold on to so-called suspicious activity reports that the LAPD’s counter-terrorism unit determines are about harmless incidents.

Until now, the department stored the innocuous reports in a database for a year. That gave rise to worries among critics of the reporting program that personal information about people who had done nothing wrong could be entered inappropriately into the federal government’s vast network of counter-terrorism databases and watch lists.