By Austin Nolen
Philly officials promised police won’t use invasive tactics against political dissenters at this year’s Democratic Convention. They have in the past, however. And new evidence shows local police tactics may not have changed as much as City officials claim.
In 2000, local police sidestepped a city anti-infiltration policy. That policy requires that a review committee sign off on any plan to infiltrate activist groups.
The committee consists of the Police Commissioner, Deputy Police Commissioner for Operations and the City’s Managing Director.
Local police got around this anti-infiltration policy during the 2000 Republican National Convention by sending state police undercovers into protest meetings instead of Philly officers.
During a recent press conference, Philly Police Commissioner Richard Ross claimed police wouldn’t use this strategy again.
During the Occupy movement, Philly police also repeatedly claimed to respect free speech rights. During Occupy, former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey required that officers read the First Amendment during roll call.
“If they want to march, we’ll escort them,” Ramsey told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We’ll just have to monitor this day by day.”
Several plaintiffs later sued Philly police, alleging that officers arrested activists illegally during Occupy.
Documents released as discovery in that lawsuit show city officials knew the FBI tried to recruit an informant within the Occupy movement during the summer of 2012, even as they publicly supported the protesters’ free speech rights.
City, state and federal officials met before the Occupy National Gathering in July 2012, according to the documents. The FBI at that meeting said they’d keep local police updated on the status of their relationship with that informant.
Those documents also show city officials helped the FBI install a security camera at an undisclosed location.
A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney told The Declaration that “the City regularly uses cameras for public safety, both as part of everyday policing as well as at large events. It provides a critical vantage point that our first responders on the ground do not have and, as a result, actually enables us to be more flexible in demonstration management.”
According to the meeting notes, the City installed several cameras of its own at the same time it helped install the FBI camera. It is not clear why the FBI would need to set up its own camera to assist the City’s public safety mission.
A request for comment on the FBI’s potential informant was referred to the FBI by Mayor Kenney’s spokesperson. A spokesperson from the FBI’s Philadelphia Division was not available for comment.
The FBI has its own protocols it must follow when it comes to informants and to investigations of politically sensitive targets, but its agents do not always comply.
Last year, the agency admitted its agents had failed to obtain the necessary approval before beginning an investigation of environmental activists that involved confidential sources.
The Declaration will be following up with this story to determine the full extent and propriety of the FBI’s activities during the 2012 Occupy protests and to discover whether the FBI played a similar role in policing this year’s DNC protests.
We have previously reported on lax civil liberties oversight of intelligence gathering by other agencies in the lead up to the 2012 Occupy National Gathering.
View the meeting notes on which this story is based here.
Disclosure: The Declaration’s Associate Editor Dustin Slaughter was a co-plaintiff in Augustine v. City of Philadelphia, the case in which the document below was produced in discovery. Mr. Slaughter also works at the law firm which brought the suit. He played no role in writing or editing this story.
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