Tag: law enforcement

FBI’s New Guidelines Further Loosen Constraints on Monitoring

The New York Times’s Charlie Savage reports that the FBI is preparing to release a new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), further relaxing the rules governing the Bureau’s investigation of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

This comes just three years after the last major revision of FBI manual, which empowered agents to employ a broad range of investigative techniques in exploratory “assessments” of citizens or domestic groups, even in the absence of allegations or evidence of wrongdoing, which are needed to open an “investigation.” The FBI assured Congress that it would conduct intensive training, and test agents to ensure that they understood the limits of the new authority—but the Inspector General found irregularities suggestive of widespread cheating on those tests.

Agents can already do quite a bit even without opening an “assessment”: They can consult the government’s own massive (and ever-growing) databases, or search the public Internet for “open source” intelligence. If, however, they want to start digging through state and local law enforcement records, or plumb the vast quantities of information held by commercial data aggregators like LexisNexis or Acxiom, they currently do have to open an assessment. Again, that doesn’t mean they’ve got to have evidence—or even an allegation—that their target is doing anything illegal, but it does mean they’ve got to create a paper trail and identify a legitimate purpose for their inquiries. That’s not much of a limitation, to be sure, but it does provide a strong deterrent to casual misuse of those databases for personal reasons. That paper trail means an agent who might be tempted to use government resources for personal ends—to check up on an ex or a new neighbor—has good reason to think twice.

Removing that check means there will be a lot more digging around in databases without any formal record of why. Even though most of those searches will be legitimate, that makes the abuses more likely to get lost in the crowd. Indeed, a series of reports by the Inspector General’s Office finding “widespread and serious misuse” of National Security Letters, noted that lax recordkeeping made it extremely difficult to accurately gauge the seriousness of the abuses or their true extent—and, of course, to hold the responsible parties accountable. Moreover, the most recent of those reports strongly suggests that agents engaged in illegal use of so-called “exigent letters” resisted the introduction of new records systems precisely because they knew (or at least suspected) their methods weren’t quite kosher.

The new rules will also permit agents to rifle through a person’s garbage when conducting an “assessment” of someone they’d like to recruit as an informant or mole. The reason, according to the Times, is that “they want the ability to use information found in a subject’s trash to put pressure on that person to assist the government in the investigation of others.” Not keen into being dragooned into FBI service? Hope you don’t have anything embarrassing in your dumpster! Physical surveillance squads can only be assigned to a target once, for a limited time, in the course of an assessment under the current rules—that limit, too, falls by the wayside in the revised DIOG.

The Bureau characterizes the latest round of changes as “tweaks” to the most recent revisions. That probably understates the significance of some of the changes, but one reason it’s worrying to see another bundle of revisions so soon after the last overhaul is precisely that it’s awfully easy to slip a big aggregate change under the radar by breaking it up into a series of “tweaks.”

We’ve seen such a move already with respect to National Security Letters, which enable access to a wide array of sensitive financial, phone, and Internet records without a court order—as long as the information is deemed relevant to an “authorized investigation.” When Congress massively expanded the scope of these tools under the USA Patriot Act, legislators understood that to mean full investigations, which must be based on “specific facts” suggesting that a crime is being committed or that a threat to national security exists. Just two years later, the Attorney General’s guidelines were quietly changed to permit the use of NSLs during “preliminary” investigations, which need not meet that standard. Soon, more than half of the NSLs issued each year were used for such preliminary inquiries (though they aren’t available for mere “assessments”… yet).

The FBI, of course, prefers to emphasize all the restrictions that remain in place. We’ll probably have to wait a year or two to see which of those get “tweaked” away next.

Operator Disconnect

My latest op-ed, now available at Politico, highlights the continued militarization of American police forces. I focus on the statements of officers involved in the fatal shooting of Marine combat veteran Jose Guerena.

After the SWAT team entered Guerena’s home, the supervisor left one or two “operators” with the body while the rest searched the house.

What did he mean by operator? Well, a police officer. But the term connotes something entirely different.

“Operator” is a term of art in the special operations community. Green Berets, SEALs and other special operations personnel often refer to themselves as operators. It’s a recognition of both the elite standards of their units and the hybrid nature of their duties — part soldier, part spy, part diplomat. But importing operator terminology into domestic law enforcement is not a benign turn of the phrase.

Perceiving yourself as an operator plasters over the difference between a law enforcement officer serving a warrant and a commando in a war zone. The former Mirandizes, the latter vaporizes, as the saying goes — and as the recent Osama bin Laden raid vividly illustrated.

Language matters, and importing military terminology into peace officer lingo contributes to police militarization. There are plenty of alternative terms for SWAT officers that would carry elite connotations, such as “tactical officer,” as in the National Tactical Officers Association. Unfortunately, the NTOA website could use a good operator scrubbing (start here, here, and here).

Video of the Guerena raid:

The Guerena raid is posted over at the Raidmap, and Radley Balko provided an excellent write-up. Balko’s Overkill is essential reading on this topic.

The War on Cameras Continues

High drama in Miami. Carlos Miller provides a good summary (H/T Radley):

Miami Beach police did their best to destroy a citizen video that shows them shooting a man to death in a hail of bullets Memorial Day.

First, police pointed their guns at the man who shot the video, according to a Miami Herald interview with the videographer.

Then they ordered the man and his girlfriend out the car and threw them down to the ground, yelling “you want to be fucking paparazzi?”

Then they snatched the cell phone from his hand and slammed it to the ground before stomping on it. Then they placed the smashed phone in the videographer’s back pocket as he was laying down on the ground.

And finally, they took him to a mobile command center where they snapped his photo and demanded the phone again, then took him to police headquarters where they conducted a recorded interview with him before releasing him.

But what they didn’t know was that Narces Benoit had removed the SIM card and hid it in his mouth, which means the video survived.

Here is the video:

There’s more at the Miami Herald. For more on this trend, check out Reason’s coverage of the war on cameras and this Cato forum with the Maryland prosecutor who tried to prosecute a motorcyclist for recording a state police officer that performed a traffic stop at gunpoint. Cato’s video Cops on Camera discusses the accountability that citizen journalism can bring to law enforcement.

Cop-Cams on the Rise

The police in Austin, Texas will be testing nine different body-mounted cameras over the next 30 to 60 days. This is a positive development for both officers and citizens. It’s good legal defense for officers against false claims of excessive force and a training tool to show trainees best practices. It’s good incentive for officers to act within the bounds of the law. Video also makes for solid evidence in court. Many jurisdictions require law enforcement officers to record confessions and/or interrogations. Steve Chapman argued last year that the FBI should adopt such a policy.

Recording should be mandatory in SWAT raids, the most intense law enforcement encounters. I make the case for recording SWAT operations with Radley Balko and Clark Neily in this video:

Cops on Camera: LAPD Edition

The L.A. Times has an article highlighting the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King beating and how video of that event introduced the LAPD to modern citizen journalism.

Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching.

“Early on in their training, I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,’ ” said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD’s academy. “We tell them if they’re doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry.”

That’s progress, and as I’ve said before, a video camera is an honest cop’s best friend.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. The LAPD paid $1.7 million to a news camera operator injured by its officers at the 2007 May Day melee. LAPD officers have also been caught on camera assaulting a bicyclist and illegally detaining a man for taking photographs on a public sidewalk. You can track police intimidation of citizen journalists at Cop Block’s War on Cameras interactive map, patterned after Cato’s own Raidmap.

Here is the Cato video, Cops on Camera:

For more on cops and cameras, check out the event Cato hosted last year and Radley Balko’s feature at Reason, “The War on Cameras.”

Really Wrong Door Raid

The DEA and San Francisco Police Department conducted a really wrong door raid:

The SFPD and DEA found no piles of marijuana money at 243 Diamond St., one of six addresses raided simultaneously in San Francisco that morning. Instead, they found Clark Freshman, who rents the penthouse at the two-unit building. Freshman, a UC Hastings law professor and the main consultant to the television show Lie to Me, was put into handcuffs while in his bathrobe as agents searched, despite Freshman’s insistence that they had the wrong place and were breaking the law…

Soon they may be called defendants in a lawsuit. A furious Freshman has pledged to sue the DEA and the SFPD for unlawful search and seizure of his home…

[Officer] Biggs describes 243 Diamond as a “two-story, one-unit” building in the warrant. There’s no mention of Freshman or Larizadeh’s son-in-law or seven-months pregnant daughter who were detained in the downstairs unit that morning. But property records — and a quick visual scan of the property — reveal it to be a three-story, two-unit building. That mistake alone may be enough to invalidate the search warrant.

Read the whole thing. Professor Freshman’s closing quote is priceless. (H/T Uncle)

Miranda Ain’t Broke

The Federalist Society has a podcast up, Miranda & Terror Suspects, debating whether terrorism suspects should be given Miranda warnings. University of Utah law professors Paul Cassell and Amos Guiora debate the issue, and Richard D. Klingler of Sidley Austin LLP moderates. Cassell provides a slideshow to go with the audio file.

Listening to the podcast, I’m struck at how so many of the concerns cited by Cassell are already dealt with by existing case law. The Quarles case created a “public safety” exception to Miranda that allows officers to ask questions without giving Miranda warnings when there is an ongoing threat to public safety. In Quarles, a revolver hidden in a supermarket was enough to create the exception.

As I wrote at Townhall.com in August, the “public safety” exception has already been applied broadly in the terrorism context in United States v. Khalil:

In 1997, NYPD officers raided an apartment where two men had constructed pipe bombs and planned to detonate them on a subway or bus terminal. During the raid, the police shot and wounded the bomb maker as he lunged for a black bag containing the explosives.

After bomb technicians discovered that a switch on one of the pipe bombs had been flipped, officers questioned the wounded bomb maker about the number of bombs, how many switches had to be flipped to set them off, whether there was a timer, what wires to cut to disarm them, and whether they were intended as suicide devices. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit let all of the answers come into evidence via the public safety exception.

The public safety exception is settled law and has been ruled on by every federal circuit and over half the states, allowing police to deal with all manner of emergencies. Courts have allowed questions about the existence or location of guns, bombs, assault or kidnapping victims still in danger, accomplices and their identities, and plans for future crimes.

Add to this the fact that statements given before Miranda warnings are still admissible to impeach a suspect who changes his story when he gets to court, and that physical evidence obtained without Miranda warnings remains admissible.

So, here’s a practical proposal: the above list ought to be distributed to counterterrorism task forces across the nation. Instead of spending time and energy on a measure that is out of Congress’ power, have government lawyers create a pamphlet to educate the local, state and federal officers who will capture tomorrow’s aspiring terrorist. Boil down the law to bullet points and put it on a business card so that they have it on hand when the next emergency unfolds. That’s a tool first responders can use.