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Police Conduct: Racial Profiling, Excessive Force


ACLU Launches Nationwide Investigation into Police Use of Military Technology & Tactics

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Militarization of Local Law Enforcement Erodes Civil Liberties, Encourages Overly Aggressive Policing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 6, 2013 

CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Tom Rosenthal, (212) 549-2582; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and affiliates in 22 other states today simultaneously filed public records requests to determine the extent to which the states are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas.

"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for ACLU's Center for Justice. "We've seen examples of this in several localities, but we don't know the dimensions of the problem."

ACLU of Nebraska has filed a public records request with the Nebraska National Guard, seeking information regarding:

  • Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
  • Incidents of National Guard contact with civilians
  • Whether the National Guard is loaning or leasing Light Armored Vehicles (LAV) to local law enforcement agencies

"Nebraskans deserve to know how military weapons and tactics are being used for everyday policing," said Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director. "The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans' right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives. We need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections. Tanks don't belong in Nebraska towns."

Additional law enforcement agencies in Nebraska will be asked to provide similar information in the next few weeks.

Affiliates from the following states filed the public records requests: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin. Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, the ACLU will use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

ACLU of Nebraska has previously participated in open records requests seeking information on Automated License Plate Readers ("ALPR") and GPS trackers. The ACLU discovered that multiple law enforcement agencies were using these technologies but with minimal policies and training behind them. "We have done open records requests on use of ALPRs and GPS tracking in this state, and discovered that modern technology has arrived in Nebraska, but few policies or procedures have been developed yet in response to those new technologies," noted Miller.

The ALPR requests done by ACLU Nebraska last year revealed some disturbing realities about the use of technology. Omaha Police Department, Lincoln Police Department and the Nebraska State Patrol were all asked about their use of ALPRs. All three departments are using ALPRs with no written policies, written procedures and no guidelines regarding the use of the technology, data retention, or sharing of the data with third parties. Combined, these three departments spent over $150,000 on ALPR units.

The Nebraska State Patrol units have been used to read thousands of plates but at the time of the NSP evaluation, not a single hit was generated, though many false hits were initially given. While the technology is intended only to check license plates as cars rapidly move down the roads, the NSP admits to using the reader "during a gang funeral" in Omaha to conduct surveillance.

"Whether its GPS trackers, License Plate Readers or tanks in towns – the people of Nebraska have the right to know what police tools their taxpayer dollars are being spent on," said Miller.

You can learn more about responses to this previous request online at www.aclu.org/plates.

A copy of ACLU of Nebraska's letter to the Nebraska National Guard is available on our website at www.aclunebraska.org. An overview of this nationwide effort can be found at www.aclu.org/militarization.

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You Have the Right to Photograph Police

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‘I have the right to take pictures’ says teen.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 19, 2012
CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – 19 year old Caitlin Hoer was at a New Year's Eve party in Blair and arrested by Washington County deputies for “obstructing an officer.” She was not drinking, though some of her friends were. She did not physically interfere with law enforcement and when given a breathalyzer, she tested 0. Her crime: recording police as they apprehended friends for alcohol violations.

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Caitlin Hoer was charged with 'obstruction of justice' for taking a photograph. ACLU points to recent DOJ memorandum stating that individuals have the right to photograph law enforcement.

“I know police have hard jobs, but I have the right to take pictures when I'm worried about how my friends are being treated by police. Getting arrested was embarrassing, my reputation in the community is tarnished, and it seemed like it was just retaliation for me standing up for my rights,” says Hoer.

Today ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller sent a letter to all Nebraska sheriffs and police chiefs informing them of court precedent that, according to the letter, “the First Amendment permits the public to record law enforcement engaged in public duties.”

“Our message to the public is simple: you have every right to photograph police,” says ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller. “We have provided this information to law enforcement to prevent Nebraska tax-payers from paying for the costly litigation that we have seen in other states. Caiti’s case is just one of the many complaints we’ve had from across the state. Nebraskans have been ordered to stop taking pictures or recording in public by police in small towns as well as in Omaha and Lincoln, so we know this is a statewide problem in need of a solution.”

In May, the Department of Justice provided official guidance to law enforcement in response to a complaint brought by the ACLU of Maryland. “Now that we have this guidance from the DOJ, we think it is important that law enforcement take steps to ensure individual rights to photograph police are not violated,” said Miller.

Additionally, ACLU Nebraska provides “Know Your Rights” resources on its website, include information about rights for photographers.

“Our Know Your Rights materials and trainings save tax-payer dollars by giving the public tools to discuss matters with law enforcement before a violation and costly litigation occur,” said Miller.

Read more about Caitlin's story and another report recieved by ACLU Nebraska.

Individuals can learn about their rights to photograph law enforcement here.

 

Two Tales of Photographs

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Both Caitlin and Jesse were charged with 'obstructing an officer' for photographing police. Learn about your rights to photograph police and see what ACLU Nebraska is doing to defend your rights!

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Caitlin Hoer

In Washington County, 19 year old Caitlin Hoer was at a New Year's Eve party in Blair. Deputies arrived and arrested some teens for alcohol violations. Caitlin was not drinking, tested zero on a breathalizer, and had committed no crime, but she was worried about how the deputies were treating some of the partygoers, so she used her cell phone to start recording the arrests. An officer told her she would be arrested if she didn't stop recording and demanded she turn over her phone. Caitlin refused to give up her property without a warrant, and she was arrested for "obstructing an officer," a charge that was very quickly dismissed by the prosecutor. Caitlin says "I know police have hard jobs, but I have the right to take pictures when I'm worried about how my friends are being treated by police. Getting arrested was embarrassing and seemed like it was just retaliation for me standing up for my rights.

Jesse McGhee

Jesse McGhee is a 41 year old African American business owner. Last July, he was at the Native Omaha Days street festival with friends and family. He'd been carrying his videocamera to record the relaxed festivities, but it became an important piece of equipment when Omaha Police started to arrest his girlfriend. Jesse knew the battery was low, but turned on his camera hoping to capture the interaction. An officer ordered him to hand over the camera. Jesse refused, since the officer did not have a warrant and Jesse hoped the video would help prove the police were using excessive force against his girlfriend. The police Tased Jesse, seized his camera and placed him under arrest for "resisting arrest" and "obstruction of justice," charges which were later dropped entirely by the prosecutor. Jesse only got his camera back after the ACLU accompanied him to the police headquarters to retrieve it. Unfortunately, the battery had run out and no footage was available of the incident. McGhee says, "I am a law-abiding taxpayer. Why would the police try to stop me from filming unless they were worried they are being caught doing something wrong? I know other people at the same festival were told they couldn't take pictures of police, too. This should make everyone worry what the police are hiding from."

 

OPD Needs and Outside Look at Misconduct

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Civil Rights and Community Organizations Request DOJ to Investigate Omaha Police

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 13, 2012
CONTACT: Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN - On March 13, ACLU Nebraska along with other civil rights and community-based organizations are requesting that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice conduct a federal review of police practices in Omaha. A letter seeking the investigation was sent to Justice Department officials in Washington, DC and Omaha on March 13.
The ACLU and its allies are seeking an investigation under the federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The Department of Justice's website explains that the statute "prohibits law enforcement agencies from regularly violating existing constitutional protections against police misconduct, such as excessive force, false arrests, unreasonable searches or seizures, and intentional racial or ethnic discrimination."
ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller released the following statement:
"Along with the other organizations signing onto the letter, our office has received a number of complaints from Omaha residents who have interacted with law enforcement. These complaints undermine the trust law enforcement has from the people of Omaha that expect to be treated fairly and kept safe. The Department of Justice's role is to review police practices along with individual complaints and build the trust Omaha residents have in their law enforcement."
"It is necessary to bring in the DOJ because the city of Omaha has failed to police itself. The city refused to follow its own law by hiring a new Public Safety Auditor, despite our 2008 lawsuit Parks v City of Omaha. The city failed to respond to allegations of evidence planting in 2010. Additional public outcries, such as the one over the alleged beating of Omaha resident Robert Wager last year have received little response. Without clear action from OPD to assure the public that practices and allegations are being reviewed, we need the DOJ to provide the investigations that we cannot trust are happening through OPD."

 

ACLU Nebraska Resumes Call for Independent Auditor

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 2, 2011

CONTACT:  Laurel S. Marsh, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

ACLU Nebraska Resumes Call for Independent Auditor

Statement of ACLU Nebraska Regarding the Video of Robert Wagner

LINCOLN - The safety of any community is entrusted in large part to those who police it.  This relationship works because of the respect those employed to do the policing hold for the public as their collective employers, the professionalism with which the police execute their responsibilities, and the trust and confidence the public has in the police to do their jobs well.

Recent news reports and video on both CTI 22 and KETV showed Robert Wagner being surrounded by up to 9 Omaha Police officers and kicked.   An article in the September 1, 2011 Omaha World Herald stated that Wagner was tased as police sought to subdue him. These images are disturbing, literally kicking someone who is already down.  While we may not know the whole story, the images raise serious concern about police policies or the lack there of and the police's ability to treat all people fairly.  The incident shown in the video rocks the trust of the community and erodes the exact confidence the community must provide in order for the police to work effectively.

It is precisely because we cannot know exactly what occurred outside of the camera’s range that we need a dispassionate, uninvolved, independent pair of eyes to investigate.

ACLU Nebraska calls upon the Omaha Police Department to bring in an outside investigator to make it clear to Omaha citizens that this matter is addressed fairly and neutrally.  We further request that the City of Omaha, in order to ensure continued transparency and fairness of police practices, fill the open position of an independent Police Auditor immediately.

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ABOUT: ACLU Nebraska and its diverse membership work in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

 


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