Revelation about covert surveillance in LA comes as 55 people arrested at Occupy San Francisco camp
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 11 December 2011
Undercover police officers infiltrated Occupy LA’s tent city last month to spy on people suspected of stockpiling human waste and crude weapons for resisting an eventual eviction, police and city government sources have said.
Authorities said the covert surveillance was not aimed at anti-Wall Street activists exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression but at those they considered anti-government extremists bent on violence.
The revelation came as police arrested dozens of people during a raid of an Occupy San Francisco encampment outside the Federal Reserve building early on Sunday.
San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza says that at approximately 4am officers arrested about 55 people for illegal lodging.
Esparza says that before police moved in on the encampment, demonstrators had been warned on an hourly basis over a 24-hour period that they were subject to arrest.
The arrests come after at least 85 people were arrested on Wednesday when police cleared a separate Occupy encampment in nearby Justin Herman Plaza.
Civil liberties campaigners said they were troubled by the infiltration of peaceful demonstrations, although the Los Angeles police department’s undercover efforts were not unique.
“We had reports that there were individuals advocating violence against police and taking steps to commit violence,” a senior LAPD source said. “In that vein we investigated that. What we didn’t do was spy or monitor or interact with those engaged with First Amendment activities.”
Authorities also used security cameras mounted outside City Hall, where the camp was located, and monitored publicly available Internet chatter and video on social networking sites, sources said.
Evidence gathered through the surveillance led to more than 40 arrests for drug use, public intoxication and other offences in the weeks before police shut down the camp on 30 November, the senior police official said.
That official and most other sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because of department policy barring police from publicly discussing undercover operations.
Elise Whitaker, an Occupy LA organiser, said she was not surprised to hear police sent undercover officers into the camp but that such surveillance proved unwarranted because the demonstration was peaceful.
“I’m not thrilled about it,” she said. “It’s demeaning to the movement. It suggests that we are not who we say we are. It suggests that they don’t trust us.”
Occupy LA was not alone. According to the New York Times, New York police also sent plainclothes officers into Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to gather intelligence on protesters there.
At its peak, officials said, there were some 2,000 people and more than 500 tents at the Los Angeles camp.
City officials had allowed the camp to remain open even as other cities forced the removal of similar compounds. But mounting complaints of sanitation problems, property damage, drugs and the presence of children prompted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to finally order the tent city closed.
In the end, nearly 300 Los Angeles demonstrators were arrested the night police raided the camp, nearly all for defying orders to leave, but there was little violence.
Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said while the LAPD’s covert actions may raise questions about intrusions on civil liberties, police officers in or out of uniform have the same right to be in a public space as anyone else.
There was nothing to suggest the LAPD’s surveillance violated Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures, she added.
“It’s always worrisome, of course, when you’re doing undercover operations but sometimes it’s necessary,” Levenson said. “It’s completely expected for safety reasons, if nothing else. They wanted to know what they were going to confront.”