Re "Defining 'suspicious activity,'" Editorial, Aug. 2
I agree wholeheartedly with your view that reasonable controls are essential for police reports documenting activity that is not clearly criminal.
The nature of police intelligence-gathering changed after 9/11. When I audited the Los Angeles Police Department's Anti-Terrorist Division in the 1990s under the auspices of a court-ordered consent decree, a lot of what I was privy to was mundane. Still, there were some deadly serious characters out there who deserved watching.
Even in those days I was not privy to a lot of information. But the division managers and I had a mutual respect, and I was afforded great courtesy. Still, I was glad that someone was watching over the officers because sometimes even well-intentioned people go too far.
Civilian oversight should never be abandoned because of fear of attack or because we believe that the police always have our best interests at heart. Oversight doesn't stymie good police work.
While supporting the LAPD's amended guidelines for handling Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, The Times agrees with those who press the department to ensure that a SAR doesn't cast suspicion on an individual whose only offense is to exercise his free-speech rights or who belongs to a particular ethnic or religious group.
However, claiming the new policy reaffirms that "racial profiling has no place in documenting suspicious activity" is disingenuous. Until this year, the LAPD had never sustained a single racial-profiling complaint out of the hundreds it received every year.
A crucial question is whether police keep personal information for too long when it doesn't point to criminal activity. But you say that a report not quickly deemed "unfounded" is kept by the LAPD for a year and shared with a Joint Regional Center that retains the information for five years. Isn't this reason enough not to support the amended SAR guidelines?
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