Animal Protection > ALF Foes

NYPD Repression at Animal Rights, Anti-Globalization Protests
Police Memos Say Arrest Tactics Calmed Protest

By JIM DWYER
New York Times
March 17, 2006

In five internal reports made public yesterday as part of a lawsuit, New York City police commanders candidly discuss how they had successfully used "proactive arrests," covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend that those approaches be employed at future gatherings. Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was the seizure of demonstrators on Fifth Avenue who were described as "obviously potential rioters." The reports provide a rare glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attack. The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: that the department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor behavior.

Indeed, one of the documents -- a draft report from the department's Disorder Control Unit -- proposed in blunt terms the resumption of a covert tactic that had been disavowed by the city and the federal government 30 years earlier. Under the heading of recommendations, the draft suggested, "Utilize undercover officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds."

Asked about the proposal, Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, said yesterday: "The N.Y.P.D. does not use police officers in any capacity to distribute misinformation."

Mr. Browne also said that the "proactive" arrests referred to in the report -- numbering about 30 -- involved protesters with pipes and masks who he said presented an obvious threat.

In another report, a police inspector praised the "staging of massive amounts" of armored vehicles, prisoner wagons and jail buses in the view of the demonstrators, writing that the sight "would cause them to be alarmed."

Besides the draft report, the documents released yesterday included four final reports written by commanders to assess police performance during the World Economic Forum, which met in New York from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2002.

The economic forum, a private organization that normally meets in Davos, Switzerland, and draws a grab bag of leaders from government, business, and academia -- as well as protesters from a miscellany of causes and movements -- was moved to the city as a gesture of solidarity after the terror attack.

Security was extremely tight around Midtown Manhattan, where the delegates were meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria, and demonstrators were kept blocks from the hotel. Officials spoke of violence during antiglobalism protests at other high profile gatherings in Seattle and Genoa, Italy. In the end, though, as one of the police reports noted, "the amount of confrontation and number of arrests were lower than expected."

Parts of that document and others were made public, over the objections of the city, by a federal magistrate, Gabriel W. Gorenstein, who said the excerpts went to the heart of a lawsuit brought by 16 people who were arrested at an animal rights demonstration during the economic forum. The police said they were blocking the sidewalk and had refused to obey an order to disperse; the demonstrators said no one told them to move.

Many of the issues in the animal rights case, which challenge broad police tactics and arrest strategies, resonate in well over a hundred other lawsuits brought against the city by demonstrators who were arrested at war protests, bicycle rallies and during the Republican National Convention.

Daniel M. Perez, the lawyer representing the people arrested at the animal rights demonstration, argued that the police tactics "punish, control and curtail the lawful exercise of First Amendment activities." The Police Department and the city have said that preserving public order is essential to protecting the civil rights of demonstrators and bystanders.
Mr. Perez maintains that the police documents, taken together, show a policy of pre-emptive arrests. The draft report discussed how early arrests could shape future events. "The arrests made at West 59th Street and Fifth Avenue set a 'tone' with the demonstrators and their possible plans at other demonstrations," the report stated.

The disorder control unit's commander, Thomas Graham, is listed as the author of the report, but the document is not signed and the word "draft" is handwritten across the top. (Page 2 of 2)

The same tactic is cited in another report, dated Feb. 8, 2002, and signed by Capt. Robert L. Bonifaci, commander of the Queens North Task Force. Captain Bonifaci wrote, "It should be noted that a large part of the success in policing the major demonstration on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002, was due in part to the proactive arrest policy that was instituted at the start of the march at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and directed toward demonstrators who were obviously potential rioters."

Elaborating on the report, Mr. Browne, the police spokesman, said that plainclothes officers saw a group of demonstrators put on masks as they drew near the Plaza Hotel, then take out metal pipes and try to rush police lines.
"In addition to mainly peaceful protesters, the W.E.F. attracted hard-core, violent elements that were surveilled by the N.Y.P.D.," Mr. Browne said, citing the incident at the Plaza. "Yes, we used surveillance techniques to track and hopefully disrupt violent elements. That's proactive."

About 30 people were arrested there, and virtually all their cases are now sealed, indicating that the charges were either dismissed by prosecutors or dropped after six months without further incident.

The Police Department report from Michael E. Shortell, a deputy inspector who headed a narcotics command in northern Manhattan, included a list of "positive aspects" of the Police Department's approach. Among them: "The staging of massive amounts of equipment in the key areas (e.g. armored vehicles, command posts, prisoner wagons, Department of Correction buses, city buses)."

Capt. Timothy Hardiman also took note of what he saw as the helpful presence of city corrections buses, which are used to transport prisoners and have reinforced windows, protected by metal grids.

"It was useful to have buses with corrections officers on hand," Captain Hardiman wrote. "They also had a powerful psychological effect."

Mr. Browne said the main reason buses were on hand was to quickly move prisoners from an arrest scene. "If a corrections bus had a deterrent effect on someone contemplating a violent act, then that's value added," he said.
However, the draft report stated that the emphasis on quickly moving prisoners had not been helpful. "This hastened the process adding to the confusion and increasing the potential for mistakes to be made," the report stated.
Mr. Perez said the show of force sent a deliberate warning to people expressing their opinions. "The message is, if you turn out, be prepared to be arrested, be prepared to be sent away for a long time," he said. "It sounds like something from a battle zone."

Demonstrators arrested during the economic forum were held by the police for up to 40 hours without seeing a judge -- twice as long as people accused of murder, rape and robbery arrested on those same days, Mr. Perez said.
Mr. Browne of the Police Department said that the arrests were processed as quickly as possible, and that protesters were not singled out for longer detention.

The reports, which were heavily edited at the request of the city, also discuss the use of undercover officers at the protests. Captain Hardiman wrote that "the use of undercovers from narcotics provided useful information." And on Inspector Shortell's list of positive aspects of the strategy, he listed "the use of undercover personnel in the ranks of the protesters."

The power of the police to secretly monitor political gatherings was tightly controlled by a federal court between 1985 and early 2003, the result of a lawsuit by political activists from the 1960's who charged that police undercover officers had disrupted their ability to express their opinions. Many of the restrictions from that case, known as Handschu, were eased at the request of the city in 2003.

The proposal to use undercover officers to spread misinformation -- which the Police Department says was not adopted -- recalled the origins of the Handschu lawsuit, which was based in part on the actions of undercover agents and officers who instigated trouble and spread lies among a group of military veterans who opposed the Vietnam War.

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