Even as America has remained fairly free of foreign terrorism in recent years, the LAPD this week moved ahead with an official policy that considers taking photos and videotaping of some buildings suspicious activity.
Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who's in charge of the department's Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, is drumming up for support for the controversial policy changes by saying there are terror cells active in L.A. right now.
KNX 1070 Newsradio got this out of him:
"In this region we have active terrorist plots, in this region, right now," said Deputy Chief Michael Downing, commanding officer of the LAPD's counterterrorism unit.
The Department is currently tracking "government of Iran operatives, Hezbollah, sovereign citizen, homegrown violent extremists, animal rights groups" and others, Downing said.
He added that Iranian or Hezbollah agents may initiate attacks locally if war erupts between the U.S. and Iran.
Dang. Way to play it like a Republican fearmonger.
While the suspicious-photographers policy approved by the Police Commission has some tight, exclusive wording, we can imagine beat cops going off on everyday tourists (or journalists) as a result.
The directive for "Potential Criminal or Non-Criminal Activity" includes:
Photography. Taking pictures or videos of facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites in a manner that would arouse suspicion in a reasonable person. Examples include taking pictures or videos of ingress/egress, delivery locations, personnel performing security functions (e.g., patrol, badge/vehicle checking), security-related equipment (e.g., perimeter fencing, security cameras), etc.;
Observation/Surveillance. Demonstrating unusual interest in facilities/buildings, infrastructures or protected sites beyond mere casual or professional (e.g., engineers) interest, such that a reasonable person would consider the activity suspicious. Examples include observations through binoculars, taking notes, attempting to measure distances, etc. ...
Wait: See something, say something, right? But not via binoculars or notepads, apparently.
Damn. Paired with " ... questioning individuals at a level beyond mere curiosity about
particular facets of a facility's or building's purpose, operations, security procedures ...," and " ... presenting false or misusing insignia, documents and/or identification to misrepresent one's affiliation ..." (aka juryrigged press passes made by your cousin Pedro), the LAPD is now poised to detain and question half the L.A. Weekly staff!
The ACLU, we're told, is concerned about the changes. The organization sued
Long Beach police the L.A. Sheriff's Department over a similar policy after a journalist was detained for doing his job.
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[Added at 4:11 p.m.]: The ACLU is taking a wait-and-see approach as the LAPD Inspector General was due to report back in two months on how things were going following the policy's approval.
Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, says the LAPD's stance toward photography is nonetheless disturbing:
The fundamental flaw in this program is that it labels as suspicious activity acts that are not only lawful but commonplace. It doesn't help national security to fill counter-terrorism databases with information about people taking pictures in public.