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Effective January 2, 2012 Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) Special Order 11, (SO 11) was superseded by Special Order 1 (SO 1). Despite the addition of non-discriminatory language and a separate procedure for filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR), SO 1 criminalizes innocent behavior. Non-criminal activities like taking photographs, using binoculars, taking notes and simply measuring distances-and many more-are still deemed suspicious in the "new" SO 1.
The underlying purpose of SO 1 is to legitimize, as well as mandate, unfettered police surveillance and spying that will infringe on privacy, civil rights and civil liberties. The general public, people of color, in particular, remain largely unaware of the negative implications of SO 1 on their daily lives. To further illuminate the seriousness and immediacy of the problem, an edited version of a previous Urban Perspective column follows.
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 is the center of the U.S. government's "anti-terrorism" effort and served as a staging ground for "national security" programs that threaten human rights and civil liberties.
Initiated by former LAPD Chief, William Bratton in 2008, SO 11 is the lead model for the National Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) initiative. It trains and authorizes LAPD officers to gather street-level intelligence and information based entirely on "observed behavior." This signals a "surveillance industrial/governmental complex" at the local level. Through SO 11, LAPD and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have established a vague and ambiguous reporting system with virtually unlimited authority. It also normalizes racial profiling and places the brunt of repressive policies on communities of color and immigrants.
SO 11's fundamental premise is that each and every person can be a suspect, hence a threat to national security. It codifies "suspicious activities" through the 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. Scary!
Excerpts from SO 11: "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 (uses 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, e.g., Staples Center, LA Convention Center, etc.
SO 11 also strengthens the development of Fusion Centers-hubs which tie local collectors and users of intelligence data into a national information-sharing network. Seventy-two Fusion Centers were fully operational as of spring 2010.
By criminalizing innocent behavior, it eviscerates individual rights and privacy. The reach of LA's manifestation of the national SAR initiative extends well beyond 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. SO 11 reverses the premise of innocent until proven guilty by reporting and documenting innocent activity based on "reasonable indication."
The best way to combat the ongoing expansion of domestic surveillance and criminalization of innocent people is a multi-pronged approach that highlights the issue and ignites 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 an advocacy to rescind it. This means 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 well as funding streams. 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 will not only disrupt and criminalize daily activities but sets new standards in policing that significantly erode civil liberties, individual rights and transparency. It uses anti-terrorism funding and pervasive fear to justify the criminalization of normal, human behavior. Essentially, SO 11 is yet another insidious law enforcement tool under the mantle of public safety and anti-terrorism.
A Community Town hall earlier this month, attended by over 200 people, expressed serious concern over the surveillance and spying mandated by LAPD's Special Order 1 and participants demanded that SO 1 be rescinded immediately.
For more information email Hamid Kahn:
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail