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Monday, February 4, 2019

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Preventing Police Abuse Filing a Police Complaint "Click Here"

Preventing Police Abuse
Filing a Police Complaint "Click Here"
THE BAD that police abuse is a serious problem. It has a long history, and it seems to defy all attempts at eradication.
The problem is national -- no police department in the country is known to be completely free of misconduct -- but it must be fought locally. The nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies are essentially independent. While some federal statutes that specify criminal penalties for willful violations of civil rights and conspiracies to violate civil rights, the United States Department of Justice has been insufficiently aggressive in prosecuting cases of police abuse.
There are shortcomings, too, in federal law itself, which does not permit "pattern and practice" lawsuits. The battle against police abuse must, therefore, be fought primarily on the local level.
THE GOOD that the situation is not hopeless. Policing has seen much progress. Some reforms do work, and some types of abuse have been reduced. Today, among both police officials and rank and file officers it is widely recognized that police brutality hinders good law enforcement.
To fight police abuse effectively, you must have realistic expectations. You must not expect too much of any one remedy because no single remedy will cure the problem. A "mix" of reforms is required. And even after citizen action has won reforms, your community must keep the pressure on through monitoring and oversight to ensure that the reforms are actually implemented.
Nonetheless, even one person, or a small group of persistent people, can make a big difference. Sometimes outmoded and abusive police practices prevail largely because no one has ever questioned them. In such cases, the simple act of spotlighting a problem can have a powerful effect that leads to reform. Just by raising questions, one person or a few people -- who need not be experts -- can open up some corner of the all-too-secretive and insular world of policing to public scrutiny. Depending on what is revealed, their inquiries can snowball into a full blown examination by the media, the public and politicians.
You've got to address specific problems. The first step, then, is to identify exactly what the police problems are in your city. What's wrong with your police department is not necessarily the same as what's wrong in another city. Police departments are different in size, quality of management, local traditions and the severity of problems. Some departments are gravely corrupt; others are relatively "clean" but have poor relations with community residents. Also, a city's political environment, which affects both how the police operate and the possibilities for achieving reform, is different in every city. For example, it is often easier to reform police procedures in cities that have a tradition of "good government," or in cities where minorities are well organized politically.
The range of police problems includes:
Excessive use of deadly force.
Excessive use of physical force.
Discriminatory patterns of arrest.
Patterns of harassment of such "undesirables" as the homeless, youth, minorities and gays, including aggressive and discriminatory use of the "stop-and-frisk" and overly harsh enforcement of petty offenses.
Chronic verbal abuse of citizens, including racist, sexist and homophobic slurs.
Discriminatory non-enforcement of the law, such as the failure to respond quickly to calls in low-income areas, and half-hearted investigations of domestic violence, rape or hate crimes.
Spying on political activists.
Employment discrimination -- in hiring, promotion and assignments, and internal harassment of minority, women and gay or lesbian police personnel.
The "code of silence" and retaliation against officers who report abuse and/or support reforms.
Overreaction to "gang" problems, which is driven by the assumption that most or all associational activity is gang-related. This includes illegal mass stops and arrests, and demanding photo IDs from young men based on their race and dress instead of their criminal conduct.
The "war on drugs," with its overboard searches and other tactics that endanger innocent bystanders. This "war" wastes scarce resources on unproductive "buy and bust" operations to the neglect of more promising community-based approaches.
Lack of accountability, such as the failure to discipline or prosecute abusive officers, and the failure to deter abuse by denying promotions and/or particular assignments because of prior abusive behavior.
Crowd control tactics that infringe on free expression rights and lead to unnecessary use of physical force.
The first thing to bear in mind about the "homework" community residents have to do in order to build a strong case for reform is that obtaining the most relevant information on the activities of your police department can be a tough task. In answer to critics, police chiefs often cite various official data to support their claim that they are really doing a great job. "Look at the crime rate," they say, "it's lower than in other cities." Or: "My department's arrest rate is much higher than elsewhere." The catch is that these data, though readily available to citizens, are deeply flawed, while the most telltale information is not always easy to get.
FORGET The "Crime Rate." The "crime rate" figures cited by government officials are based on the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) system, which has several serious flaws. To name only a few: First, the UCR only measures reported crime.
Second, since the system is not independently audited there are no meaningful controls over how police departments use their crime data. Police officers can and do "unfounded" crimes, meaning they decide that no crime occurred. They also "downgrade" crimes -- for example, by officially classifying a rape as an assault. Third, reports can get "lost," either deliberately or inadvertently.
There are many other technical problems that make the UCR a dubious measure of the extent of crime problems. The National Crime Survey (NCS), published by another part of the U.S. Justice Department, provides a far more accurate estimate of the national crime rate and of long-term trends in crime. But it is a national-level estimate and does not provide data on individual cities. So the NCS isn't much help on the local level.
FORGET The "Clearance Rate." A police department's official data on its "clearance rate," which refers to the percentage of crimes solved, do not accurately reflect that department's performance. The fact that one department "clears" 40 percent of all robberies, compared with 25 percent by another department, doesn't necessarily mean it is more effective. There are too many ways to manipulate the data, either by claiming a larger number of crimes "cleared" (inflating the numerator), or by artificially lowering the number of reported crimes (lowering the denominator).
FORGET The arrest rate. Police officers have broad discretion in making and recording arrests. The Police Foundation (in Washington, D.C.), which conducts research on policing issues, has found great variations among police departments in their recording of arrests. In many departments, police officers take people into custody, hold them at the station, question and then release them without filling out an arrest report. For all practical purposes, these people were "arrested," but their arrests don't show up in the official data. Other departments record such arrests. Thus, the department that reports a lower number of arrests may actually be taking more people into custody than the department that reports more arrests.
FORGET The citizen complaint rate. Official data on the complaints filed by citizens regarding police conduct are important but present a number of problems. Many departments do not release any information on this subject. Some publish a smattering of information on complaints and the percentage of complaints sustained by the department. In more and more cities, the civilian review agency publishes this data.
Data on citizen complaints are difficult to interpret. Some examples: In 1990, it was widely reported that San Francisco, with less than 2,000 police officers, had more citizen complaints than Los Angeles, which has more than 8,000 officers. What that may mean, however, is that Los Angeles residents are afraid to file reports or don't believe it would do any good. San Francisco has a relatively independent civilian review process, which may encourage the filing of more complaints. Also in 1990, New York City reported a decline from previous years in the number of citizen complaints filed. But many analysts believe that simply reflected New Yorkers' widespread disillusionment with their civilian review board. Citizen complaints filed in Omaha, Nebraska doubled after the mayor allowed people to file their complaints at City Hall, as well as the police department.
Another problem is that in some police departments with internal affairs systems, officers often try to dissuade people from filing formal complaints that will later become part of an officer's file. And the number of complaints counted is also affected by whether or not the internal affairs system accepts anonymous complaints and complaints by phone or mail, or requires in-person, sworn statements.
Thus, the official "complaint rate" (complaints per 1,000 citizens), rather than being a reliable measure of police performance, more than likely reflects the administrative customs of a particular police department.
Police shootings. You need to know about police firearms discharges, which refer to the number of times a police weapon has been fired. This information is more complete than statistics on the number of persons shot and wounded or killed. (However, information on the race of persons shot and wounded or killed is important.) Particularly important is information on repeat shooters, which can tell you whether some officers fire their weapons at a suspiciously high rate.
With this information, you can evaluate the use of deadly force in your department. You can also evaluate the long-term trends in shootings. Are shootings increasing or decreasing? Has there been a recent upsurge? How does the department compare with other departments -- are officers shooting at a significantly higher rate in your department than elsewhere?
*Do some officers shoot more often than others? *Do white officers shoot more often that black officers? *Do young officers shoot more often than veteran officers?
The most detailed analysis of police shootings was produced by James Fyfe, a former police officer who is now a criminologist and expert on police practices. He concluded that the single most important factor determining patterns of shooting is place of assignment. Fyfe's findings showed that: Black and white officers assigned to similar precincts fired their weapons at essentially the same rate; since new officers are assigned to less desirable, high crime precincts based on the seniority system, younger officers shoot more often than older officers; and since a disproportionate number of black officers are young due to recent affirmative action programs, black officers shoot more often than white officers -- but as a function of assignment, not race.
Fyfe found significant differences in shooting patterns between police departments. The overall shooting rate in some departments was significantly higher than in others, a disparity that he attributed to differences in department policy.
SOURCE: James J. Fyfe, "Who Shoots? - - A Look At Officer, Race And Police Shooting." Journal of Police Science And Administration; Volume 9, December 1981; pp. 367-382.
B. Use of physical force. You need to know how frequently, day to day, police officers in your city use physical force in the course of their encounters with citizens. Do officers try to refrain from using such force against citizens, or do they quickly and casually resort to force?
In its report on the Los Angeles police department in the aftermath of the March 1991 beating of Rodney King, the Christopher Commission confirmed a long held suspicion: a small number of officers are involved in an extraordinarily high percentage of use of force incidents. Ten percent of the officers accounted for 33.2% of all use of force incidents. The Commission was able to identify 44 such officers who were not disciplined despite the fact that they were the subjects of numerous citizen complaints.
In 1981, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found a similar pattern in Houston and recommended, as a remedy, that police departments establish "early warning systems" to identify officers with high rates of citizen complaints.
Patterns in the use of physical force reveal a lot about the "culture" of a particular police department. Clearly, a department whose officers repeatedly engage in physically coercive conduct needs reform. Police officials often deny that their personnel are prone to using force inappropriately, so if your community believes it has a problem in this area citizens must be able to support their claims with existing data, or data they have gathered themselves.
These data indicate a clear pattern of racial discrimination. The disparity between whites and blacks shot and killed is extreme in the category of persons "unarmed and not assaultive." These are classic "fleeing felon" situations in which, prior to 1985, Memphis Police Department policy and the common law of many states permitted officers to use deadly force. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a police officer to shoot a suspected felon in flight who does not pose an immediate danger to the officer or public. The case -- Tennessee v. Garner -- involved Edward Garner, a 15 year-old black youth who, though unarmed, was shot and killed while trying to flee the scene of a suspected burglary.
Person Shot and Killed Number Shot and Killed White Black
Armed and Assaultive 5 7
Unarmed and Assaultive 2 6
Unarmed and Not Assaultive 1 13
In examining official policies, you need to evaluate them in comparison to recommended standards.
D. Lawsuits. You need to know how many lawsuits citizens have filed against your local police department. You want to know what the charges were, the number of officers involved, whether certain officers are named repeatedly in suits, what was the outcome and, in the case of successful suits, how much did the city pay in damages.
The number of lawsuits filed against a police department can be very revealing. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported that the city paid $64 million (of citizens' tax money!) in damages for abuses by the Los Angeles Police Department and county sheriff's office in just three years -- 1989-1991. In 1990 alone, New York City paid victims of police misconduct a record high of more than $13 million. This kind of information can be used to mobilize middle-class taxpayers and "good-government" activists, who can then be brought into a community coalition against police abuse.
E. Minority employment. You need to know how many African Americans, panics, Asians, other minorities and women are employed by your police department and their distribution throughout the department's ranks.
This information is useful in assessing, again, the "culture" of your local police department -- is it internally diverse, fair and equitable? It also suggests how much value the department places on the "human relations" aspects of its work, and how responsive it is to community concerns.
Police business is generally shrouded in secrecy, which conceals outdated policies and departmental inertia, encourages cover-ups and, of course, breeds public suspicion. But remember: Police departments are an arm of government, and *the government's business is your business*. Police policies, procedures, memoranda, records, reports, tape recordings, etc. should not be withheld from public view unless their release would threaten on-going investigations, endanger officers or others, or invade someone's personal privacy.
Demanding information about police practices is an important part of the struggle to establish police accountability. Indeed, a campaign focused solely on getting information from the police can serve as a vehicle for organizing a community to tackle police abuse. Regarding all of the following categories, one of the tactics your community could employ is to interest a local investigative journalist in seeking information from the police for a series of articles. Once in hand, the information is a tool for holding the police accountable for their actions.
Police Shootings. Virtually every big city police department has this information on hand, since officers are required to file a report after every firearms discharge. Departments are supposed to publish a summary of weapons discharges every year, but they don't usually release the information voluntarily. Strong civilian review boards in a few cities now publish the information. As for repeat shooters, this information exists in police reports but police departments vigorously resist identifying repeat shooters. There are several ways to proceed:
(1) As an organizing strategy, demand that the police department publish this data, identify the repeaters and take appropriate remedial action (counseling, retraining, formal discipline, transfer, etc.)
(2) Alternatively, since it isn't essential that officers be identified by name, demand that they be identified simply by a code number, which can focus public attention on the problem of excessive shooters.
(3) Visit your local civilian review agency, if one exists. These agencies often have the authority to collect and release a range of information about local police conduct.
Police work remains dangerous, and many police officers contend that they need greater freedom to use deadly force today because of the increase in heavily armed drug gangs.
But in fact, police work is much less dangerous than it used to be. The number of officers killed in the line of duty is half of what it was nearly 20 years ago. According to the FBI, the number of officers killed dropped from 134 in 1973 to 67 in 1990. That reduced death rate is even more dramatic considering the increase in the number of police officers on duty in the field.
Police officers have not been the victims of "drive-by" gang shootings. Innocent by-standers and rival gang members have been the victims.
The police do not need more firepower.
B. Physical Force. There are three potential sources of data on police use of physical force.
(1) Data developed by community residents. Community residents can make a significant contribution to documenting physical force abuses and, in the process, organize. They can bear witness to, and record, abuse incidents, take information from others who have witnessed incidents, refute police department arguments that there is no problem and help document the inadequacies of the police department's official complaint review process.
The San Diego chapter of the ACLU's Southern California affiliate set up "police hotline," which is listed in the Yellow Pages, to receive complaints about the police. The chapter's first report on the hotline, issued in August 1990, offers some useful information about complaint patterns. The Police Watch in Los Angeles compiles similar data. To receive a copy of the San Diego ACLU report, write to the ACLU/San Diego, 1202 Kettner Boulevard, Suite 6200, San Diego, CA 92101, or call (619) 232-2121. Police Watch can be contacted at 611 South Catalina, Suite 409, Los Angeles, CA 90005; (213)387-3325.
(2) Formal complaints filed by citizens. Most police departments do not make this information public. Some publish summary data in their annual report, so consult that document. In a number of cities, civilian review agencies publish it, so check with that agency in your city. The annual reports of the New York City Citizen Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) provide fairly detailed summaries.
(3) Internal police reports. An increasing number of police departments require officers to fill out reports after any use of physical force. This is a larger set of data than the citizen complaints would provide, since many citizens don't file complaints even when they have cause to do so. Ask to see these reports.
C. Official Policies. Your police department has a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual (it may have another title) that contains the official policies of the department. The SOP manual is a public document and should be readily available. Some departments place current copies in local libraries. Others treat it as an internal document not available to the public -- which is unacceptable. Demand to see the manual, if your department withholds it. As a last resort, you can file suit under your state's open records law to obtain the SOP manual.
D. Lawsuits. Lawsuits brought against police departments are matters of public record. Records of suits brought in state courts reside at your local state courthouse; of suits brought in federal district court, at your local federal courthouse. The Lexis computer database is a source of published opinions in civilian suits brought against the police. However, collecting information from any of these sources is a very laborious task. Better to contact your local ACLU affiliate and/or other relevant public interest groups, which may have done most of the work for you. In the back of this manual, find the name and address of your local ACLU and other organizations.
E. Minority Employment. Official data on this issue are generally reliable and available from your local police department. If the police stonewall, you can get the information from the city's personnel division. The point is to evaluate the police department's minority employment record relative to local conditions.
Using current data, compare the percentage of a particular group of people in the local population with that group's representation on the police force. If, for example, Hispanic Americans are 30 percent of the population but only 15 percent of the sworn officers, the your police department is only half way toward achieving an ideal level of diversity.
Civilian review of police activity was first proposed in the 1950s because of widespread dissatisfaction with the internal disciplinary procedures of police departments. Many citizens didn't believe that police officials took their complaints seriously. They suspected officials of investigating allegations of abuse superficially at best, and of covering up misconduct. The theory underlying the concept of civilian review is that civilian investigations of citizen complaints are more independent because they are conducted by people who are not sworn officers.
At first, civilian review was a dream few thought would ever be fulfilled. But slow, steady progress has been made, indicating that it's an idea whose time has come. By the end of 1991, more than 60 percent of the nation's 50 largest cities had civilian review systems, half of which were established between 1986 and 1991.
Civilian review advocates in every city have had to overcome substantial resistance from local police departments. One veteran of the struggle for civilian review has chronicled the stages of police opposition as follows:
> the "over our dead bodies" stage, during which police will not accept any type of civilian oversight under any circumstances;
> the "magical conversion" stage, when it becomes politically inevitable that civilian review will be adopted. At this point, former police opponents suddenly become civilian review experts and propose the weakest possible models; Strong community advocacy is necessary to overcome resistance at every stage, even after civilian review is established.
Confusion reigns about civilian review systems because they vary tremendously.
Some are more "civilian" than others. Some are not boards but municipal agencies headed by an executive director (who has been appointed by, and is accountable to, the mayor).
The three basic types of civilian review systems are:
(1) Type I. Persons who are not sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding. They submit an investigative report to a non-officer or board of non-officers, requesting a recommendation of discipline or leniency. This process is the most independent and most "civilian."
(2) Type II. Sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding. They submit an investigative report to a non-officer or board of non-officers for a recommendation.
(3) Type III. Sworn officers conduct the initial fact-finding and make a recommendation to the police chief. If the aggrieved citizen is not satisfied with the chief's action on the complaint, he or she may appeal to aboard that includes non-officers. Obviously, this process is the least independent.
Although the above are the most common, other types of civilian review systems also exist.
1 Independence. The power to conduct hearings, subpoena witnesses and report findings and recommendations to the public.
2 Investigatory Power. The authority to independently investigate incidents and issue findings on complaints.
3 Mandatory Police Cooperation. Complete access to police witnesses and documents through legal mandate or subpoena power.
4 Adequate Funding. Should not be a lower budget priority than police internal affairs systems.
5 Hearings. Essential for solving credibility questions and enhancing public confidence in process.
6 Reflect Community Diversity. Board and staff should be broadly representative of the community it serves.
7 Policy Recommendations. Civilian oversight can spot problem policies and provide a forum for developing reforms.
8 Statistical Analysis. Public statistical reports can detail trends in allegations, and early warning systems can identify officers who are subjects of unusually numerous complaints.
9 Separate Offices. Should be housed away from police headquarters to maintain independence and credibility with public.
10 Disciplinary Role. Board findings should be considered in determining appropriate disciplinary action.
Civilian review establishes the principle of police accountability. Strong evidence exists to show that a complaint review system encourages citizens to act on their grievances. Even a weak civilian review process is far better than none at all.
A civilian review agency can be an important source of information about police misconduct. A civilian agency is more likely to compile and publish data on patterns of misconduct, especially on officers with chronic problems, than is a police internal affairs agency.
Civilian review can alert police administrators to the steps they must take to curb abuse in their departments. Many well-intentioned police officials have failed to act decisively against police brutality because internal investigations didn't provide them with the facts.
The existence of a civilian review agency, a reform in itself, can help ensure that other needed reforms are implemented. A police department can formulate model policies aimed at deterring and punishing misconduct, but those policies will be meaningless unless a system is in place to guarantee that the policies are aggressively enforced.
Civilian review works, if only because it's at least a vast improvement over the police policing themselves. Nearly all existing civilian review systems reduce public reluctance to file complaints; reduce procedural barriers to filing complaints; enhance the likelihood that statistical reporting on complaints will be more complete; enhance the likelihood of an independent review of abuse allegations; foster confidence in complainants that they will get their "day in court" through the hearing process; increase scrutiny of police policies that lead to citizen complaints, and increase opportunities for other reform efforts.
Your community's campaign should seek the strongest possible civilian review system, one that is fully independent and designed for easy access. But if all you can get adopted is a weak system, take it with the understanding that once it's created you can press for changes to make it more independent and effective.
Police misconduct in the use of deadly force is an area in which considerable progress has been made. Although the rate of deadly force abuse is still intolerably high, national data reveal reductions, by as much as 35-to-40 percent in our 50 largest cities, in the number of persons shot and killed by the police since the mid-1970s. This has been accompanied by a significant reduction in the racial disparities among persons shot and killed: since the 1970s, from about six minority persons to one white person, down to three minority persons to one white.
This progress serves as a model for controlling other forms of police behavior.
How was it achieved? In the mid-1970s, police departments began to develop restrictive internal policies on the use of deadly force. These embodied the "defense of life" standard, which allows the use of deadly force only when the life of an officer or some other person is in danger. In 1985, the Supreme Court finally upheld this standard in the case of Tennessee v. Garner (see sidebar, "Racial Discrimination in Police Shootings"). However, the majority of policies adopted by police departments go beyond the courts Garner decision, prohibiting warning shots, shots to wound, and other reckless actions. Most important, these policies require officers to file written reports after each firearms discharge, and require that those reports be automatically reviewed by higher-ranking officers.
To meet goal #2, your community must:
(1) Ensure that the police department has a highly restrictive deadly force policy. Most big city departments do. But the national trend data on shootings suggest that medium-sized and small departments have not caught up with the big cities, so much remains to be done there. Much remains to be done as well in county sheriff and state police agencies, which have not been subject to the same scrutiny as big city police departments.
(2) Ensure enforcement of the deadly force policy through community monitoring.
To be accountable, the police department and/or the local civilian review agency should publish summary data on shooting incidents.
Citizens should also be able to find out whether the department disciplines officers who violate its policy, and whether certain officers are repeatedly involved in questionable incidents.
POLICY: The Houston Police Department places its highest value on the life and safety of its officers and the public. The department's policies, rules and procedures are designed to ensure that this value guides police officers' use of firearms.
RULES: The policy stated above is the basis of the following set of rules that have been designed to guide officers in all cases involving the use of firearms:
*The citizens of Houston have vested in their police officers the power to carry and use firearms in the exercise of their service to society. This power is based on trust and, therefore, must be balanced by a system of accountability.
The serious consequences of the use of firearms by police officers necessitate the specification of limits for officers' discretion; there is often no appeal from an officer's decision to use a firearm. Therefore, it is imperative that every effort be made to ensure that such use is not only legally warranted but also rational and humane.
*The basic responsibility of police officers to protect life also requires that they exhaust all other reasonable means for apprehension and control before resorting to the use of firearms. Police officers are equipped with firearms as a means of last resort to protect themselves and others from the immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.
*Even though all officers must be prepared to use their firearms when necessary, the utmost restraint must be exercised in their use. Consequently, no officer will be disciplined for discharging a firearm in self-defense or in defense of another when faced with a situation that immediately threatens life or serious bodily injury. Just as important, no officer will be disciplined for not discharging a firearm if that discharge might threaten the life or safety of an innocent person, or if the discharge is not clearly warranted by the policy and rules of the department.
Preventing Police Abuse
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*Above all, this department values the safety of its employees and the public.
Likewise it believes that police officers should use firearms with a high degree of restraint. Officers' use of firearms, therefore, shall never be considered routine and is permissible only in defense of life and then only after all alternative means have been exhausted.
RULE 1: Police officers shall not discharge their firearms except to protect themselves or another person from imminent death or serious bodily injury.
RULE 2: Police officers shall discharge their firearms only when doing so will not endanger innocent persons.
RULE 3: Police officers shall not discharge their firearms to threaten or subdue persons whose actions are destructive to property or injurious to themselves but which do not represent an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.
RULE 4: Police officers shall not discharge their firearms to subdue an escaping suspect who presents no imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.
RULE 5: Police officers shall not discharge their weapons at a moving vehicle unless it is absolutely necessary to do so to protect against an imminent threat to the life of the officer or others.
RULE 6: Police officers when confronting an oncoming vehicle shall attempt to move out of the path, if possible, rather than discharge their firearms at the oncoming vehicle.
RULE 7: Police officers shall not intentionally place themselves in the path of an oncoming vehicle and attempt to disable the vehicle by discharging their firearms.
RULE 8: Police officers shall not discharge their firearms at a fleeing vehicle or its driver.
RULE 9: Police officers shall not fire warning shots.
RULE 10: Police officers shall not draw or display their firearms unless there is a threat or probably cause to believe there is a threat to life, or for inspection.
Your community's principal aim here should be to get the police department to adopt and enforce a written policy governing the use of physical force. This policy should have two parts:
(1) It should explicitly restrict physical force to the narrowest possible range of specific situations. For example, a policy on the use of batons should forbid police officers from striking citizens in "non-target" areas, such as the head and spine, where permanent injuries can result. Mace should be used defensively, not offensively. Since electronic stun guns (Novas and Taser) have great potential for abuse because they don't leave scars or bruises, their use should be strictly controlled, supervised and reviewed.
(2) It should require that a police officer file a written report after any use of physical force, and that report should be automatically reviewed by high ranking officers.
Your community's second objective should be to get the police department to establish an early warning system to identify officers who are involved in an inordinate number of incidents that include the inappropriate use of physical force. The incidents should then be investigated and, if verified, the officers involved should be charged, disciplined, transferred, re-trained or offered counseling -- depending on the severity of their misconduct. The Christopher Commission's report on the Rodney King beating ascertained that the Los Angeles police leadership typically looked the other way when officers were involved in questionable incidents. This tolerance of brutality by the top brass helped create an atmosphere conducive to police abuses.
Police spying, or intelligence gathering, on constitutionally protected political, religious and private sexual behavior is an historic problem. And it's particularly difficult to deal with because spying, by definition, is a covert activity. The victim doesn't know it's happening, and it's not witnessed by others.
During the 1970s, the ACLU and other public interest organizations brought lawsuits against unconstitutional police surveillance in several cities around the country, including New York City, Chicago, Memphis and Los Angeles. These suits resulted in the imposition of stricter limits on intelligence gathering by the police.
In Seattle in 1976, it came to light that local police were spying on organizations of black construction workers, Native Americans, advocates for low-income housing and other community activists whose conduct was perfectly lawful. In response to the revelations, the ACLU, along with the American Friends Service Committee and the National Lawyers Guild, formed the Coalition on Government Spying. After several years of hard work and lobbying, the coalition succeeded in bringing about passage of a comprehensive municipal law -- the first of its kind in the country -- that governs all police investigations and restricts the collection of political, religious and sexual information.
This law, called the Seattle Police Intelligence Ordinance, is an important breakthrough and a model for other efforts. It contains three elements that represent basic changes in police intelligence operations:
(1) "Restricted" information (that is, religious, political or sexual information) can be collected only if a person is reasonably suspected of having committed a crime, and the information must be relevant to that crime; (2) An independent civilian "auditor", appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, must review all police authorizations to collect restricted information and have access to all other police files. If the auditor finds that the police have violated the law, he or she must so notify the individuals who are the subjects of the unlawful investigations;
(3) Any individual subjected to unlawful surveillance can bring a civil action in court to stop the surveillance, and to collect damages from the city.
Police policies should be subject to public review and debate instead of being viewed as the sole province of police insiders. Open policy-making not only allows police officials to benefit from community input, but it also provides an opportunity for police officials to explain to the public why certain tactics or procedures may be necessary. This kind of communication between the police and the community can help anticipate problems and avert crises before they occur.
The Police Review Commission (a civilian review body) of Berkeley, California holds regular, bi-monthly meetings that are open to the public. At these meetings, representatives of community organizations can voice criticisms, make proposals and introduce resolutions to review or reform specific police policies.
The Police Practices Project of the ACLU of Northern California successfully pressured the San Francisco Police Department to adopt enlightened policies in regard to the treatment of homeless people; the use of pain holds and batons; the deployment of plainclothes officers at protests and demonstrations; intelligence gathering; the selection of field training officers, and AIDS/HIV education for police officers. The Project has also prevented the adoption of bad policies, including an anti-loitering rule and a policy that would have made demonstrators financially liable for police costs.
In Tucson, Arizona, a Citizens' Police Advisory Committee was made part of the city's municipal code in July 1990. The Committee, which is composed of both civilian and police representatives, has the authority to initiate investigations of controversial incidents or questionable policies, along with other oversight functions.
(a) Consult with the governing body from time to time as may be required by the Mayor and [City] Council.
(b) Assist the police in achieving a greater understanding of the nature and causes of complex community problems in the area of human relations, with special emphasis on the advancement and improvement of relations between police and community minority groups.
(c) Study, examine and recommend methods, approaches and techniques to encourage and develop an active citizen-police partnership in the prevention of crime.
(d) Promote cooperative citizen-police programs and approaches to the solutions of community crime problems, emphasizing the principal that the administration of justice is a responsibility which requires total community involvement.
(e) Recommend procedures, programs and/or legislation to enhance cooperation among citizens of the community and police.
(f) Strive to strengthen and ensure throughout the community the application of the principle of equal protection under the law for all persons.
(g) Consult and cooperate with federal, state, city and other public agencies, commissions and committees on matters within the committee's charge.
(h) The committee may ask for and shall receive from the Police Department, a review of action taken by the Department in incidents which create community concern or controversy.
(i) The committee shall have the authority, should it so desire, to use a specific incident as a vehicle for the examination of police policies, procedures and priorities.
(j) At the discretion and express direction of the Mayor and Council, assume and undertake such other tasks or duties as will facilitate the accomplishment of these goals and objectives.........
Over the years, citizens' groups in some communities demanded more education and training for police officers as part of their efforts to solve the problem of police abuse. But at this juncture, the education issue is somewhat moot because the educational levels of American police officers have risen dramatically in recent years. By 1986, 22.6 percent of all officers had four or more years of college. About 65 percent had at least some college experience. The levels of education are highest among new recruits, who, in many departments have about two years of college. Moreover, no evidence exists to show that college educated police officers perform better, or are more respectful of citizen's rights, than less educated officers. In an abuse-prone department, all officers are likely to engage in misconduct, regardless of education levels.
The training of police personnel has also improved significantly in recent years. The average length of police academy programs has more than doubled, from about 300 to over 600 hours; in some cities, 900 or even 1200 hours are the rule. As the time devoted to training has increased, the academies have added a number of important subjects to their curricula: race relations, domestic violence, handling the mentally ill, and so on.
Unquestionably, a rigorously trained, professional police force is a desirable goal that should be pursued depending on local conditions. If citizens in your community feel that this is an important issue, here's what you should aim for:
A first rate police academy curriculum. The curriculum should be near the high end of the current scale -- 800 hours or more. It should include a mix of classroom and supervised field training.
It should include training in the techniques of de-escalating violence. In addition to being given weapons and taught how to use them, police recruits should also learn special skills -- especially communications skills -- to help them defuse and avert situations that might lead to the necessary use of force.
It should include community sensitivity training. Training recruits to handle issues of special significance in particular communities can lead to a reduction in community-police tensions.
The ACLU of Georgia, after a series of incidents occurred in Atlanta involving police harassment of gays, helped provide regular training at the local police academy to sensitize new recruits on gay and lesbian concerns.
The Police Practices Project of the ACLU of Northern California organized a group of homeless people to create a video for use in sensitivity training at the San Francisco police academy.
The ACLU of New Jersey, in response to complaints that state police were harassing minority motorists and entrapping gay men during an undercover operation in the men's room of a highway service area, joined the NAACP and the Lesbian and Gay Coalition in initiating a series of meetings with the new superintendent of the Division of State Police. The meetings resulted in the introduction a two-week seminar on "Cultural Diversity and Professionalism" that all 1,700 employees of the Division were required to take within a year's time. Although it's too soon to evaluate the seminar's impact on police conduct, the participating organizations believe that at the very least it opened up lines of communication between the community and the police.
Unfortunately, even the most enlightened training programs can be undermined by veteran officers, who traditionally tell recruits out in the field to "forget all that crap they taught you in the academy."
In San Francisco some years ago, men selected as field training officers (FTOs) were found to have some of the worst complaint and litigation records in the department. The evaluation scores they gave recruits revealed their systematic attempts to weed out minority and women officers. They labeled women recruits "bad drivers," gave Asians low scores in radio communication and unfairly criticized African Americans for their report-writing. The Northern California ACLU's Police Practices Project joined other community groups in successfully pressuring the police department to adopt stricter selection criteria for FTOs to ensure greater racial and gender integration, fairer evaluations of recruits and higher quality training.
Historically, police departments, like other government agencies, have engaged in employment discrimination. People of color have been grossly under represented, and women were not even accepted as full-fledged officers until the 1970s.
Some progress has been made in the last 15 to 20 years. Police departments in several cities now have significant numbers of officers who are people of color.
A few departments even approach the theoretically ideal level of maintaining forces that reflect the racial composition of the communities they serve. Most departments now recruit and assign women on an equal basis with men.
Nonetheless, the overall employment levels of women and minorities still lag far behind the ideal. In 1986, only 8.8 percent of all sworn officers were women.
The San Francisco police force, even though it has been operating under a court-approved consent decree for 12 years, is still only 12 percent female and about 25 percent minority -- just a little more than half the integration level the court required. These disparities are most blatant at the highest ranks of virtually all police departments in the country. Although a number of cities now have African American police chiefs, only two big city departments have ever had female chiefs.
Improvements in police employment practices have come about largely as the result of litigation under existing civil rights laws. However, the courts may not be hospitable to employment discrimination claims in the future. Therefore, community groups and civil rights organizations should prepare to fight in the political arena for the integration of police departments.
In the short term, the recruitment of more women and minority officers may not result in less police abuse. Several social science studies suggest that minority and white officers do not differ greatly in their use of physical or deadly force, or in their arrest practices. (Women officers, on the other hand, are involved in citizen complaints at about half the rate of male officers, according to the New York City CCRB.) Still, in the long term, an integrated police force is a very important goal for these reasons:
(1) Integration will break down the isolation of police departments, as they reflect more and more the composition of the communities they serve. A representative police force will probably be less likely to behave like an alien, occupying army. The visible presence of officers of color in high-ranking command positions engenders public confidence in the ability of police department personnel to identify, on human terms, with community residents.
(2) Integration sends the important message that the primary enforcement arm of "the law" is, itself, committed to the principles of equal opportunity and equal protection of the law.
(3) Integration might, over time, reduce overtly racist/sexist enforcement tactics and actions, including brutality.
Every state now has procedures for certifying or licensing police officers that require all sworn officers to have some minimum level of training. This was one of the advances of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
An important new development is the advent of procedures for decertifying officers. Traditionally, a police officer could be fired from one department but then hired by another. As a result, persons guilty of gross misconduct could continue to work as police officers. Decertification bars a dismissed officer from further police employment in that state (though not necessarily in some other state). Between 1976 and 1983, the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission decertified 132 police officers.
One result of the increasing number of lawsuits brought against police departments by victims of abuse over the past 20 years was a movement, within the police profession, for an accreditation process similar to that in education and other fields whereby the police would establish and enforce their own professional standards.
In 1979, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (COALEA) was established as a joint undertaking of several major professional associations. COALEA published its first set of Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies in 1985 and issues new standards periodically.
In deciding whether your community should press for accreditation of its local police department, keep in mind these basic points.
(1) Accreditation is a voluntary process. A police department suffers no penalty for not being accredited. (In contrast, lack of accreditation in higher education carries penalties that include an institution's ineligibility for student financial aid programs and non-recognition of its awarded credits or degrees.)
(2) Current accreditation standards are minimum, rather than optimum. They are very good in some respects but do not go far enough in covering the critical uses of law enforcement powers.
(3) Accreditation might make a difference in the case of a truly backward, unprofessional and poorly managed police department in that it could help stimulate much needed and long overdue changes. On the other hand, a police department can easily comply with all of the current standards and still tolerate rampant brutality, spying and other abuses.
(4) Citizens in your particular community must decide whether, taking all of the above into account, accreditation would serve as an effective mobilization tool.
Once your community has identified its police problems and decided what solutions to pursue, an organizing strategy for securing the desired reform must be developed.
In the 1960s and '70s, the most successful method of attacking police abuse was the lawsuit. During the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren, landmark Supreme
Court decisions that imposed nationally uniform limits on police behavior were handed down in the cases of Mapp v. Ohio, Escobedo v. Illinois and Miranda v. Arizona. Respectively, those decisions extended Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures to the states, established the Sixth
Amendment right to a lawyer during police interrogations and required the police to inform persons taken into custody of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Today, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is repeatedly demonstrating its hostility to individual rights, as are many lower federal courts, the majority of whose presiding judges were appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. More and more, therefore, the task of opposing police abuse falls not to lawyers, but to the citizens in your community.
PROFILE: The Indianapolis Law Enforcement and Community Relations Coalition.
The year is 1984. Galvanized by a series of brutal and unjustified police killings that have sparked tensions between the police department and the African American community, 19 civil rights, religious, professional and civic organizations form the Indianapolis Law Enforcement/Community Relations Coalition. Coalition members include the Urban League, Baptist Ministerial Alliance, Community Centers of Indianapolis, Hispano-American Center, Indiana Council of Churches, Jewish Community Relations Council, Mental Health Association, NAACP and the United Methodist Church.
The coalition, co-chaired by the directors of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and the Urban League of Greater Indianapolis, sets the establishment of a civilian review board as its first priority. A board is established in 1989.
Currently, the coalition is seeking to strengthen the board's authority and functions. Coalition members are calling for removal of three police representatives so that the board will be completely civilian and, thus, truly independent. Coalition members collaborate with police academy instructors on sensitivity training, meeting with every class of recruits before the recruits graduate and take on their first field assignments. The recruits receive orientation around various policies and procedures that impact on the community, such as the use of deadly force.
In Indianapolis today, the Law Enforcement/Community Relations Coalition is regarded by the police, the public and the media as the city's principal civilian watchdog organization. Key to the coalition's success has been its broad based character and commitment to participatory decision-making.
PROFILE: COPWATCH, Berkeley, California COPWATCH is a community organization whose stated purpose is "to reduce police harassment and brutality," and "to uphold Berkeley's tradition of tolerance and diversity." Its main activities are monitoring police conduct through personal observation, recording and publicizing incidents of abuse and harassment, and working with Berkeley's civilian review board -- the Police Review Commission.
COPWATCH sends teams of volunteers into the community on three-hour shifts. Each team is equipped with a flashlight, tape recorder, camera, "incident" forms (see sidebar) and COPWATCH Handbooks that describe the organization's non-violent tactics, relevant laws, court decisions, police policies and what citizens should do in an emergency. At the end of a shift, the volunteers return their completed forms to the COPWATCH office. If they have witnessed an harassment incident, they call one of the organization's cooperating lawyers, who follows up on the incident.
PROFILE: The Seattle Coalition on Government Spying
The year is 1976. During confirmation hearings for a new Seattle police chief, it comes to light that the city's police department maintains political intelligence files on citizens who are not suspected of any criminal activity.
Some time later, a local newspaper prints the names of 150 individuals that were found in police files.
A group of citizens, concerned about this clear violation of First Amendment and privacy rights, form the Coalition on Government Spying.
One of the coalition's first acts is to file suit under the Washington public disclosure law, seeking access to the police department's intelligence files (see sample Open Records statute in sidebar). Under the law, the police can refuse to disclose the files only if "non disclosure is essential to effective law enforcement." Since the files are purely political, the court orders full disclosure.
The coalition's charges of abuse turn out to be well-founded. Not only do the files show that the police have engaged in unconstitutional surveillance of political activists, but they are full of inaccurate, misleading and damaging information.
The lawsuit and its revelations receive a lot of media attention, which helps build strong public support for reform. The result: Seattle enacts the first and only municipal ordinance in the country that restricts police surveillance.
Each of the 50 states has a freedom of information act or an open records law. Virtually all such laws were enacted post-Watergate, in the mid-1970's. Under these laws, community groups can request and obtain access to police reports, investigations, policies and tape recordings regarding a controversial incident, such as a beating, shooting, or false arrest. If the police refuse to disclose information to representatives of your community, that refusal in itself should become the focus of organizing and public attention. Ultimately, your community can sue to compel disclosure, unless the records you seek are specifically exempted.
General state policy on public records.
It is the policy of this state that all state, county, and municipal records shall at all times be open for a personal inspection by any person.
(1) "Public records" means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, or other material, regardless of physical form or other characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency.
(2) "Agency" shall mean any state, county, district, authority or municipal officer, department, division, board, bureau, commission, or other separate unit of government...
Inspection and examination of records; exemptions.
(1) Every person who has custody of public records shall permit the records to be inspected and examined by any person desiring to do so, at reasonable times, under reasonable conditions...The custodian shall furnish copies or certified copies of the records upon payment of fees...
(2) All public records which presently are provided by law to be confidential or which are prohibited from being inspected by the public, whether by general or special law, shall be exempt from the provisions of subsection

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data


by Ryan Gallagher
Keeping tabs on civilian phones? There's more than one way to skin that cat.
The National Security Agency’s spying tactics are being intensely scrutinized following the recent leaks of secret documents. However, the NSA isn't the only US government agency using controversial surveillance methods.
Monitoring citizens' cell phones without their knowledge is a booming business. From Arizona to California, Florida to Texas, state and federal authorities have been quietly investing millions of dollars acquiring clandestine mobile phone surveillance equipment in the past decade.
Earlier this year, a covert tool called the “Stingray” that can gather data from hundreds of phones over targeted areas attracted international attention. Rights groups alleged that its use could be unlawful. But the same company that exclusively manufacturers the Stingray—Florida-based Harris Corporation—has for years been selling government agencies an entire range of secretive mobile phone surveillance technologies from a catalogue that it conceals from the public on national security grounds.
Details about the devices are not disclosed on the Harris website, and marketing materials come with a warning that anyone distributing them outside law enforcement agencies or telecom firms could be committing a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
These little-known cousins of the Stingray cannot only track movements—they can also perform denial-of-service attacks on phones and intercept conversations. Since 2004, Harris has earned more than $40 million from spy technology contracts with city, state, and federal authorities in the US, according to procurement records.
In an effort to inform the debate around controversial covert government tactics, Ars has compiled a list of this equipment by scrutinizing publicly available purchasing contracts published on government websites and marketing materials obtained through equipment resellers. Disclosed, in some cases for the first time, are photographs of the Harris spy tools, their cost, names, capabilities, and the agencies known to have purchased them.
What follows is the most comprehensive picture to date of the mobile phone surveillance technology that has been deployed in the US over the past decade.


The Stingray has become the most widely known and contentious spy tool used by government agencies to track mobile phones, in part due to an Arizona court case that called the legality of its use into question. It’s a box-shaped portable device, sometimes described as an “IMSI catcher,” that gathers information from phones by sending out a signal that tricks them into connecting to it. The Stingray can be covertly set up virtually anywhere—in the back of a vehicle, for instance—and can be used over a targeted radius to collect hundreds of unique phone identifying codes, such as the International Mobile Subscriber Number (IMSI) and the Electronic Serial Number (ESM). The authorities can then hone in on specific phones of interest to monitor the location of the user in real time or use the spy tool to log a record of all phones in a targeted area at a particular time.

The FBI uses the Stingray to track suspects and says that it does not use the tool to intercept the content of communications. However, this capability does exist. Procurement documents indicate that the Stingray can also be used with software called “FishHawk,” (PDF) which boosts the device’s capabilities by allowing authorities to eavesdrop on conversations. Other similar Harris software includes “Porpoise,” which is sold on a USB drive and is designed to be installed on a laptop and used in conjunction with transceivers—possibly including the Stingray—for surveillance of text messages.
Similar devices are sold by other government spy technology suppliers, but US authorities appear to use Harris equipment exclusively. They've awarded the company “sole source” contracts because its spy tools provide capabilities that authorities claim other companies do not offer. The Stingray has become so popular, in fact, that “Stingray” has become a generic name used informally to describe all kinds of IMSI catcher-style devices.
First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Stingray was first filed in August 2001. Earlier versions of the technology—sometimes described as “digital analyzers” or “cell site simulators” by the FBI—were being deployed in the mid-1990s. An upgraded version of the Stingray, named the “Stingray II,” was introduced to the spy tech market by Harris Corp. between 2007 and 2008. Photographs filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office depict the Stingray II as a more sophisticated device, with many additional USB inputs and a switch for a “GPS antenna,” which is likely used to assist in location tracking.
Cost: $68,479 for the original Stingray; $134,952 for Stingray II.

Agencies: Federal authorities have spent more than $30 million on Stingrays and related equipment and training since 2004, according to procurement records. Purchasing agencies include the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the Army, and the Navy. Cops in Arizona, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and California have also either purchased or considered purchasing the devices, according to public records. In one case, procurement records (PDF) show cops in Miami obtained a Stingray to monitor phones at a free trade conference held in Miami in 2003.


The Gossamer is a small portable device that can be used to secretly gather data on mobile phones operating in a target area. It sends out a covert signal that tricks phones into handing over their unique codes—such as the IMSI and TMSI—which can be used to identify users and home in on specific devices of interest. What makes it different from the Stingray? Not only is the Gossamer much smaller, but it can also be used to perform a denial-of-service attack on phone users, blocking targeted people from making or receiving calls, according to marketing materials (PDF) published by a Brazilian reseller of the Harris equipment. The Gossamer has the appearance of a clunky-looking handheld transceiver. One photograph filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office shows it displaying an option for "mobile interrogation" on its small LCD screen, which sits above a telephone-style keypad.
First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Gossamer was first filed in October 2001.
Cost: $19,696.

Agencies: Between 2005 and 2009, the FBI, Special Operations Command, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement spent more than $1.3 million purchasing Harris’ Gossamer technology and upgrading existing Gossamer units, according to procurement records. Most of the $1.3 million was spent by the FBI as part of a large contract in 2005.


The Triggerfish is an eavesdropping device. It allows authorities to covertly intercept mobile phone conversations in real time. This sets it apart from the original version of the Stingray, which marketing documents suggest was designed mainly for location monitoring and gathering metadata (though software can allow the Stingray to eavesdrop). The Triggerfish, which looks similar in size to the Stingray, can also be used to identify the location from which a phone call is being made. It can gather large amounts of data on users over a targeted area, allowing authorities to view identifying codes of up to 60,000 different phones at one time, according to marketing materials.

First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Triggerfish was filed in July 2001, though its “first use anywhere” is listed as November 1997. It is not clear whether the Triggerfish is still for sale or whether its name has recently changed, as the trademark on the device was canceled in 2008, and it does not appear on Harris’ current federal price lists.
Cost: Between $90,000 and $102,000.
Agencies: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the DEA; and county cops in Miami-Dade invested in Triggerfish technology prior to 2004, according to procurement records. However, the procurement records (PDF) also show that the Miami-Dade authorities complained that the device "provided access" only to Cingular and AT&T wireless network carriers. (This was before the two companies merged.) To remedy that, the force complemented the Triggerfish tool with additional Harris technology, including the Stingray and Amberjack, which enabled monitoring of Metro PCS, Sprint, and Verizon. This gave the cops "the ability to track approximately ninety percent of the wireless industry," the procurement documents state.


The Kingfish is a surveillance transceiver that allows authorities to track and mine information from mobile phones over a targeted area. The device does not appear to enable interception of communications; instead, it can covertly gather unique identity codes and show connections between phones and numbers being dialed. It is smaller than the Stingray, black and gray in color, and can be controlled wirelessly by a conventional notebook PC using Bluetooth. You can even conceal it in a discreet-looking briefcase, according to marketing brochures.
First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Kingfish was filed in August 2001. Its “first use anywhere” is listed in records as December 2003.
Cost: $25,349.
Agencies: Government agencies have spent about $13 million on Kingfish technology since 2006, sometimes as part of what is described in procurement documents as a “vehicular package” deal that includes a Stingray. The US Marshals Service; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Army; Air Force; state cops in Florida; county cops in Maricopa, Arizona; and Special Operations Command have all purchased a Kingfish in recent years.


The Amberjack is an antenna that is used to help track and locate mobile phones. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the Stingray, Gossamer, and Kingfish as a “direction-finding system” (PDF) that monitors the signal strength of the targeted phone in order to home in on the suspect’s location in real time. The device comes inbuilt with magnets so it can be attached to the roof of a police vehicle, and it has been designed to have a “low profile” for covert purposes. A photograph of the Amberjack filed with a trademark application reveals that the device, which is metallic and circular in shape, comes with a “tie-down kit” to prevent it from falling off the roof of a vehicle that is being driven at “highway speeds.”
First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Amberjack was filed in August 2001 at the same time as the Stingray. Its “first use anywhere” is listed in records as October 2002.
Cost: $35,015
Agencies: The DEA; FBI; Special Operations Command; Secret Service; the Navy; the US Marshals Service; and cops in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas have all purchased Amberjack technology, according to procurement records.


The Harpoon is an "amplifier" (PDF) that can boost the signal of a Stingray or Kingfish device, allowing it to project its surveillance signal farther or from a greater distance depending on the location of the targets. A photograph filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office shows that the device has two handles for carrying and a silver, metallic front with a series of inputs that allow it to be connected to other mobile phone spy devices.
First used: Trademark records show that a filing for the Harpoon was filed in June 2008.
Cost: $16,000 to $19,000.
Agencies: The DEA; state cops in Florida; city cops in Tempe, Arizona; the Army; and the Navy are among those to have purchased Harpoons since 2009.


The Hailstorm is the latest in the line of mobile phone tracking tools that Harris Corp. is offering authorities. However, few details about it have trickled into the public domain. It can be purchased as a standalone unit or as an upgrade to the Stingray or Kingfish, which suggests that it has the same functionality as these devices but has been tweaked with new or more advanced capabilities. Procurement documents (PDF) show that Harris Corp. has, in at least one case, recommended that authorities use the Hailstorm in conjunction with software made by Nebraska-based surveillance company Pen-Link. The Pen-Link software appears to enable authorities deploying the Hailstorm to directly communicate with cell phone carriers over an Internet connection, possibly to help coordinate the surveillance of targeted individuals.
First used: Unknown.
Cost: $169,602 as a standalone unit. The price is reduced when purchased as an upgrade.
Agencies: Public records show that earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department, county cops in Oakland County, Michigan, and city cops in Phoenix, Arizona, each separately entered the procurement process to obtain the Hailstorm equipment. The Baltimore and Phoenix forces each set aside about $100,000 for the device, and they purchased it as an upgrade to Stingray II mobile phone spy technology. The Phoenix cops spent an additional $10,000 on Hailstorm training sessions conducted by Harris Corp. in Melbourne, Florida, and Oakland County authorities said they obtained a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to help finance the procurement of the Hailstorm tool. The Oakland authorities noted that the device was needed for “pinpoint tracking of criminal activity.” It is highly likely that other authorities—particularly federal agencies—will invest in the Hailstorm too, with procurement records eventually surfacing later this year or into 2014.

No one’s talking

Ars contacted the agencies most frequently referenced above, including the FBI; the DEA; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Secret Service; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Our requests for comment were either not returned or rebuffed on the grounds that the topic is "law enforcement sensitive." Harris Corp. also turned down an interview request and declined to answer any questions for this story.
The FBI has previously stated in response to questions about the Stingray device that it "strives to protect our country and its people using every available tool" and that location data in particular is a "vital component" of investigations. But when it comes to discussing specific surveillance equipment, it is common for the authorities to remain tight-lipped because they don’t want to reveal tactics to criminals.
The code of silence shrouding the above tools, however, is highly contentious. Their use by law enforcement agencies is in a legal gray zone, particularly because interference with communications signals is supposed to be prohibited under the federal Communications Act. In May, an Arizona court ruled that the FBI's use of a Stingray was lawful in a case involving conspiracy, wire fraud, and identity theft. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), when seeking authorization for the use of the Stingray tool, the feds have sometimes unlawfully withheld information from judges about the full scope of its capabilities. This means that judges across the country are potentially authorizing the use of the technology without even knowing what it actually does.
That's not all. There is another significant issue raised by the Harris spy devices: security. According to Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the ACLU, similar covert surveillance technology is being manufactured by a host of companies in other countries like China and Russia. He believes the US government’s “state secrecy” on the subject is putting Americans at risk.
"Our government is sitting on a security flaw that impacts every phone in the country," Soghoian says. "If we don't talk about Stingray-style tools and the flaws that they exploit, we can't defend ourselves against foreign governments and criminals using this equipment, too."

Statistics Prove Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs Not A Public Threat

Authorities openly target motorcycle clubs, particularly 1% clubs, selectively enforcing the law, in order to harass or investigate individuals based on the belief that they are definitionally criminals. This perspective is based on an outdated stereotype that is ignorant of statistical reality and foundational constitutional principles that have been consistently confirmed by the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Many federal and state authorities insist that what they call “outlaw motorcycle gangs/OMG’s” are a significant organized crime threat in America, despite the statistical data that proves criminal activity involving these clubs is negligible at best. (Note: the OMG tag is universally rejected by the clubs labeled gangs by law enforcement.)

Tens of millions of dollars are spent targeting and prosecuting motorcycle clubs based on a fallacy of composition. The regurgitated actions of the few are used to create a generalized assumption about thousands of people, regardless of statistical reality. Crimes committed by individual members of motorcycle clubs are highly sensationalized and presented to be representative of the entire community.  In fact, the statistical data that does exist, including the data generated by these same agencies, proves definitively that clubs labeled OMG’s represent a myopic percentage of criminal activity in this country.  Indeed, data suggests that law enforcement agencies commit and sanction many more major crimes than motorcycle clubs.

The Numbers

To begin to paint an accurate picture it is necessary to know how many members of these clubs and convicted felons there are in the US. Statistics say that there are 44,000 members of clubs labeled OMG’s, 24,000,000 convicted felons, and 6,851,000 whom are currently under correctional supervision.

  • The FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center estimates that there are 44,000 members of so-called OMG’s in the U.S. According to the NGIC, “OMGs are organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises. Although some law enforcement agencies regard only One Percenters as OMGs, the NGIC, for the purpose of this assessment, covers all OMG criminal organizations, including OMG support and puppet clubs.”

  • According to the Princeton University study, GROWTH IN THE U.S. EX-FELON AND EX-PRISONER POPULATION, 1948 TO 2010, 20 million people in 2010 had a felony conviction. Accounting for growth rates, there were approximately 24 million people in 2014 with a felony conviction.

  • According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 6,851,000 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2014. (see BJS, “Correctional Populations In The United States, 2014”)

Statistical Reality- Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs Members a very small fraction of convicted felons in the US.

Although there is no statistical data tracking the number of motorcycle club members who are convicted felons, law enforcement would have you believe that all members of clubs they have labeled OMG’s are criminals.

Despite the obvious inaccuracy of this claim,- most members of clubs labeled OMG’s have no criminal record- let us assume for the sake of argument, and to demonstrate the absurdity of law enforcement assumptions, that every member of every club that authorities label a criminal gang is a convicted felon.

Even if all 44,000 members of clubs labeled OMG’s were convicted felons, the overall impact on felony convictions would be minuscule. Do the math. 44,000 members/24,000,000 convicted felons=0.00183333 or .183333%.  The impact on those currently under correctional supervision would be similarly insignificant. 44,000 members/6,851,000 currently under supervision=0.00642242 or .64%. A fraction of 1% does not justify the stereotype of criminality. It’s that simple.  The following Pie Chart graphically demonstrates the absurdity of focusing on motorcycle clubs as a law enforcement priority.
Graph of All Convicted Felons vs. Outlaw Motorcycle Club Members

Actual Number of Convicted Felons Among Clubs Labeled OMG’s

Although the NGIC estimates the number of members, no data on how many members are actually convicted felons is available.  On August 2, 2016 the MPP conducted a short survey with a small national sampling to generate data on the issue.  The survey data is derived solely from motorcycle clubs labeled OMG’s by law enforcement.   The survey asked two questions; 1- number of members in your Chapter; and 2- number of convicted felons in your Chapter.

Survey Results:

# of Chapters included in Survey: 5 (States surveyed include Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, and Maryland.)

Average Number of members: 15
Average number of Convicted Felons per Chapter: 3 or 20%

15/3 WA
16/4 OR
14/3 TX
14/1 MD
16/4 CA

The survey results revealed that there was an average of 1 convicted felon in 5, or 20%.  Although the above example, which counts every member of targeted clubs as convicted felons, demonstrates that clubs definitionally have a minimal crime print, 20% of members is a far more realistic projection than 100%.  20% of 44,000 = 8,800 club members that are convicted felons.  8,800 represents an almost non-existent 0.036% of the 24,000,0000 total convicted felons in the US.

Why Are There Felons In Motorcycle Clubs?

Options in society for most felons are extremely limited in terms of employment and some basic civil liberties and often felons feel rejected and stigmatized by society. Motorcycle club culture was created by individuals that had been rejected by society after having returned home from war. Motorcycle clubs provide an opportunity for reintegration to those released from incarceration without the constraints of a judgmental mainstream.

The motorcycle club world is a classless society in terms of mainstream establishment social hierarchy.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a common laborer or an executive.  When you walk into the club world, status is dictated by respect and honor and not your education or job title.  Club culture provides an alternative way of life free from the condemnations of the mainstream. Everyone has to live by the same legal schematic. But not everyone has to reinforce or acknowledge mainstream social hierarchies or elitist behavior.

Note: Some crimes are definitionally despicable and individuals that have committed these crimes are not accepted, or they are ostracized, from the club community. Crimes targeting children are an example of such an offense.

Hypocrisy Defined: LE Authorizes Informants To Commit Thousands of Major Crimes Annually

For decades, law enforcement agencies have authorized informants to commit major crimes.  Labeled “otherwise illegal activity”, these sanctioned major crimes are considered to be necessary for undercover informant work.  But, aside from the FBI, “otherwise illegal activity” has not been quantified by other state and federal agencies.

In 1997, according to the criminal defense firm O’Brien Hatfield, PA, “It came to light when reporters revealed the FBI had authorized mobster “Whitey” Bulger to continue his criminal enterprise long after he became an FBI informant in 1975. Since that revelation, the U.S. Attorney General has required the FBI to keep reports on “otherwise illegal activity” by its “confidential human sources.”

But obtaining these reports has proven difficult over the years. At least until members of the press were able to obtain some quantifiable numbers from the FBI. The Huffington Post Reported on December 27,2013:

“In a Jan. 14, 2013, letter to Justice Department officials, obtained by The Huffington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request, FBI officials disclosed that its 56 field offices authorized informants to break the law at least 5,939 times during the 2012 calendar year. USA Today reported earlier this year that the bureau allowed its informants to break the law 5,658 times in 2011.”

O’Brien Hatfield explains that the reports “indicate the otherwise illegal activities were considered Tier I and Tier II violations. The Justice Department defines a Tier I violation as activity that would be criminal if not for the authorization of a federal prosecutor, and includes major crimes such as drug trafficking, public corruption and crimes of violence. Tier II violations aren’t necessarily less serious but can authorized by a senior FBI field manager.”

“Unfortunately, other law enforcement agencies are not required to keep such reports, although it is widely assumed that all levels of law enforcement allow informants to commit crimes during investigations”, says O’Brien Hatfield.

Annually, nearly 6,000 major crimes are being authorized by the FBI alone. Considering that all levels of law enforcement authorize criminal acts, the actual numbers would be truly staggering.

All levels of law enforcement sanction informants to commit major crimes in order to arrest and convict other individuals for committing these same crimes. This hypocrisy overwhelms the amount of criminal activity in the club community many times over.

Study Proves Police Commit More Felonies Than Outlaw Bikers

Police officers are arrested about 1,100 times a year, or roughly three officers charged every day, according to a new national study, thought to be the first-ever nationwide look at police crime, conducted by researchers at Bowling Green State University through a grant from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice.

The most common crimes were simple assault, aggravated assault, and significant numbers of sex crimes. About 72 percent of officers (825 annually) charged in cases with known outcomes are convicted, more than 40 percent of the crimes are committed on duty.

The number of convicted felons in clubs labeled OMG’s, as explained above, is approximately 8,800 total. The number of convicted cops over the last 11 years, according to the only data that exists, is 9,075. (825 convicted cops per year x 11 years). More cops have been convicted of felonies in the last 11 years than the total number of felons in clubs law enforcement labels OMG’s.

This is hypocrisy at the highest level. Statistically, without bias, police are more of a threat to public safety than outlaw motorcycle clubs have ever been.

Conclusions: Motorcycle Clubs Are Not A National Law Enforcement Issue.

Considered in context with data suggesting law enforcement is a larger contributor to crime, the analysis leaves no doubt that clubs targeted by law enforcement are targeted based on stereotype as opposed to statistical reality.  The vastly expensive surveillance, investigations, harassment and profiling campaigns conducted by authorities are simply not justified based on the irrefutable statistical reality that motorcycle clubs mathematically have a negligible to non-existent impact on the level and magnitude of felony crime in the United States.

USA - Does cellphone-sweeping ‘StingRay’ technology go too far?

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas are among scores of police departments across the country using highly secretive technology developed for the military that can track down suspects by using the signals constantly emitted by their cellphones.
Civil liberties groups are increasingly raising objections to the suitcase-sized devices known as StingRays that can sweep up cellphone data from an entire neighborhood.
Some versions of the technology can even intercept texts and calls. Part of the problem is the devices can also collect data from anyone near the person being tracked.
About a dozen states now have laws requiring warrants to use the technology. A judge in New York City last month ruled the NYPD must have an eavesdropping warrant to use the device.