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Denver mayor rejects panel’s findings to destroy secret police files

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    NMU         COLORADO         Freedom of Information         Jul 26, 2002    

Denver mayor rejects panel’s findings to destroy secret police files

  • Mayor Wellington Webb said he would ignore a panel’s recommendations to destroy surveillance files that Denver police have collected on political activists since 1954.

Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said July 22 that he will not follow an independent panel’s recommendation to destroy within 60 days surveillance files that police have collected on peaceful protestors since 1954.

Webb commissioned the panel, composed of three retired judges, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado wrote to him in March that it had “obtained documents that demonstrate that the Denver Police Department is monitoring and recording the peaceful protest activities of Denver-area residents and keeping files on the expressive activities of law-abiding advocacy organization.”

Webb told the panel to review Denver Police Department policies for collecting criminal intelligence and recommending a policy that they should follow.

The panel found that the introduction of a sophisticated criminal intelligence software system in 2000 led to the entry of intelligence information into a database without differentiating between categories of information. It is estimated that the Denver Police Department retained records for approximately 208 groups and 3,277 individuals who engaged in political, religious, social or expressive activities.

While the panel noted that federal regulations allow police to collect information about a group or individual that is reasonably suspected of being involved in a criminal activity or enterprise, “the information that [they] reviewed did not adequately justify the retention of the information about any of the groups in the department’s criminal intelligence files.”

The panel recommended that department should change its policy of collecting intelligence information by engaging in regular reviews and periodic audits to ensure that all retained information complies with the requirement that there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

It also suggested that the police should provide information for 60 days to anyone who believes he was the subject of an intelligence bureau file. If an individual’s name is listed in the file, he should be allowed to see his file, with the names of others mentioned redacted for privacy purposes, it said.

The panel also said that files would not be released to the general public and should be destroyed at the end of the 60-day period.

Webb agreed with most of the panel’s recommendation, but said he would not destroy the files.

In March, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the city on behalf of citizens who had information about their involvement in peaceful protest activities retained in police intelligence files. Alleging that the Denver Police Department falsely labeled citizens as “criminal extremists,” the lawsuit looks for injunctive and declarative relief.

“The files should not be destroyed and eventually they should be made available to the public, consistent with the privacy rights of the individuals mentioned in the files,” said Mark Silverstein, an ACLU attorney in Denver.

(American Friends Service Committee v. City and County of Denver) JLW


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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