LAPD should halt destructive “Suspicious Activity Reporting” policies

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The ACLU of Southern California, along with several community and civil rights groups, has sent a letter urging the LAPD to suspend its “Suspicious Activity Reporting” (SAR) program until it revises policy to better protect civil liberties. The letter was signed by the ACLU/SC and groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the South Asian Network (SAN) and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). Earlier this year, LAPD approved Special Order 1, which revised how officers identify and report “suspicious activity” that officers believe may be related to terrorism. Special Order 1 failed to include prior recommendations from community groups to ensure that SAR does not result in the large-scale collection of information on non-criminal, constitutionally protected activities like photography or speech, and that its vague standards do not lead to racial or religious profiling.

By encouraging officers to treat non-criminal activity as suspicious and potentially related to terrorism, the groups say the SAR program creates the potential to encourage stops, detentions, and searches without the constitutionally required reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

“Under the LAPD’s current policies, the SAR program encourages an officer to collect information on innocuous activity like photographing, without any reason to suspect criminal activity,” said Peter Bibring, “Putting information on innocent Los Angeles residents into intelligence databases raises serious civil liberties concerns, and doesn’t help fight terrorism.”

“In an era of a federal push to deeper involve local police in immigration enforcement via information-gathering and databases, Latino immigrants are acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that departments like the LAPD instead continue to focus on their core mission of promoting public safety,” said Carl Bergquist, Policy Advocate with CHILRA.

“This is best served when the police nurtures and strengthens the trust of all Angeleno communities – revising Special Order 1 to protect everyday activities and lessen the chances of racial and religious profiling will keep us on the path toward that goal.” The letter asks for a series of changes to Special Order 1 before LAPD resumes its SAR program, including requiring that SARs be filed and maintained only where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Concern over the program has been mounting in recent weeks, with a coalition, “Campaign to Rescind Special Order 1,” holding a town hall for about 200 community members over the weekend to call attention to potential abuses of the SAR program.

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