The Brennan Center released 6,000 pages of documents from Los Angeles Police Department that were obtained through the California Public Records Act. It details years of surveillance operations. This collection is an invaluable resource for journalists, activists, and First Amendment advocates who have been gathering evidence that the LAPD routinely spy on residents, especially activists with records or simply gang affiliations.
This comprehensive look at police use of social networking shows that cops have been using predictive policing and posing as pseudonyms to monitor suspects who are likely to commit crime. Some cases were done with little oversight. The department is preparing to launch a program to monitor connections between people, according to new documents.
The LAPD has been monitoring every peephole. An excerpt from a 2010 intelligence-gathering manual states that officers should gather information during almost any incident, achieved by several divisions monitoring Twitter, Facebook, internet chats and postings, radio frequencies, virtually all video cameras operated by the LAPD, as well as the FBI and other agencies . The manual states that all sources of information should be considered when collecting information by scouts.
Sometimes, monitoring Twitter was about monitoring someone, not an event. Police tried to get people to give over their social media accounts and identifying information. An officer fills out a standard Field Interview (FI), a card that is used to stop a person. It leaves a blank area for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Another asks for the S ocial Security number. A notice states that officers may order the subject to hand it in by law. Michel Moore, Chief of Police, instructed officers via email in 2020 that all information on FI cards must be properly recorded and that the department would verify their completeness.
Others documents reveal more clearly that officers gather information even when there is no crime. In 2016, the LAPD's Computer Statistics (COMPSTAT wing) was described as using predictive policing to assess crime patterns, trends, hot spots, trends and clusters. These products are used to identify criminals and assist in their prosecution.
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Predictive Policing is based on the collection of crime statistics in order to monitor hot spots based on location. It also uses information to identify people with criminal records and histories of drug abuse. Research repeatedly shows that predictive policing tools can further perpetuate racist policing practices. The LAPD stopped using LASER in 2019, for example. After the inspector general discovered that the program allowed police the ability to stop people on the Chronic Offenders List merely for being there. A name could also end up on this list for vaguely defined reasons, such as gang affiliation. It wasn't clear if someone was on the list even though they were convicted. PredPol, which was a popular location-based predictive police tool, was also discontinued in 2020. This was due to tightening of the department's belts during the covid-19 pandemic.
The use of predictive algorithms in criminal law has been shown to encourage racial profiling, and can lead to excessively long arrest records. More racist predictive programs, which assess recidivism probability and lengthen prison sentences, will consider longer records.
The Brennan Center points out that COMPSTAT uses Palantir software. The company can map online connections and explicitly includes gang networks. This could allow for more narrow reasoning to pinpoint innocent people. According to a BuzzFeed report, the Palantir database also included the FI cards.
This is not surprising to activists. However, more evidence shows an interest in crowd tracking. An email chain from 2016 shows an LAPD officer telling Dataminr that they intended to use their social media monitoring software for the May Day protest. Last year, Intercept reported that Dataminr had compiled vast amounts of predictive data about Black Lives Matter protesters' plans and locations. Police can use this information to determine where protesters are located to create a barrier of officers to capture them and then, as in the LAPD's case, zip-tie them. According to documents, the LAPD had also used Geofeedia in a trial. Although Geofeedia was reportedly blocked by Facebook and Twitter, the department still used Geofeedia, according to an undated document.
The LAPD is also expanding its capabilities. It purchased a license for Media Sonar this year. This license allows the LAPD to open-source search of individuals. It can also learn names and relevant slang, which, as Mary Pat Dwyer, Brennan Center fellow, points out in a breakdown of the system, is prone to misinterpretation due to social media's highly contextual nature.
An LAPD sergeant was also disciplined for posting racial rants and saying that Nipsey was responsible for his death. However, the department could connect their S ocial S security numbers to their social accounts and monitor their slang usage. The Brennan Center also has a list of 35 police department social media policies that it will continue updating.
This trove is of exceptional value as we rarely get complete information about the surveillance methods used by police departments until it's too late. BuzzFeed News presented the LAPD last year with evidence that Clearview AIs facial recognition software had been used. This technology has been used to scrape unnumbered photos from social networks without consent. After BuzzFeeds inquires, the LAPD decided to ban facial recognition. However, the outlet found that 475 searches had been conducted by officers over a three month period.