No Slime or Goo on Tap for DNC Protesters

July 24 2008, 7:00 AM

The City and County of Denver and the ACLU have reached a partial agreement with respect to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado seeking details of security purchases made by police for the Democratic National Convention. Denver has now provided details of the $18.2 million spent to date and those planning on protesting can rest a little easier:

The city also announced today that none of the equipment purchases include nonlethal weapons that discharge "slime" or "goo" to immobilize persons or vehicles or that use microwaves or sonic waves to induce pain or discomfort in targets.

The ACLU was relieved -- so much so that it agreed to wait until the convention is over to decide whether to return to court and seek more information. Denver also disclosed that the police have no "mandatory arrest" policy -- meaning there is no list of offenses that will require arrest rather than the issuance of a citation. As to details of the extra training police are receiving for the Convention, DPD insists the focus is not on nabbing protesters but on moving crowds safely through the streets:

"The emphasis is not on arresting people but on gaining voluntary compliance with requests that enable everyone to safely exercise their First Amendment rights."

A breakdown of the $18.2 million in security purchases is here (pdf.) Hopefully this means there will be no Guantanamo of the Rockies similar to the Guantanamo on the Hudson that sprang up at Pier 57 in New York City when more than 1,700 protesters were arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Nonetheless, I encourage the Denver Police Department and the officers on loan from outlying areas to to review the ACLU's report, Rights and Wrongs at the RNC, Police and Protest at the RNC (pdf). Among their recommendations:

  • Stop the indiscriminate use of mesh nets as an arrest tactic -- Whatever the merit of using nets to restrict the movement of crowds or to stabilize a situation, it is inappropriate to surround crowds with nets and then arrest everyone. This sort of indiscriminate arrest tactic is assured of capturing large numbers of innocent people, as happened during the Convention.
  • Assure that clear warnings to disperse are given -- During the Convention, the NYPD made mass arrests without giving clear warnings to disperse. Despite Department claims that dispersal orders first were given, extensive videotape and eyewitness testimony reveal that warnings either were not given or were inaudible to most members of the crowd. There is no reason why the Department cannot give clear, audible warnings to disperse if it genuinely intends to give people the opportunity to disperse.
  • Assure that the only people arrested are those who actually have been observed engaging in unlawful activity -- When law enforcement officials seek to arrest large groups of people, it is essential that careful steps be taken to assure that the only people arrested are those who in fact are observed to have engaged in unlawful activity, as opposed to simply being in a public area near unlawful activity. That this is a problem is apparent from the large number of bystanders arrested during the Convention and evidence collected by the NYCLU that "arresting officers" during Convention mass arrests in fact did not observe any unlawful conduct by those they arrested.

A few more suggestions: Give citations for minor offenses like parading without a permit or disorderly conduct rather than make an arrest. If an arrest is deemed necessary, policies should be in place to ensure the person is brought before a judge or released on a summons within 24 hours. Don't fingerprint those taken in on minor offenses. Other than creating a political database on protesters, it serves no legitimate purpose. Have an appropriate site ready to hold arrestees. It should be clean with adequate seating and sanitation. Make sure the officers are attuned to medical needs of those arrested and respond appropriately and not with threats of longer detention. Have a written policy specifying the kinds of property of arrestees that may be held for evidence. Protesters' property should be treated the same as the property of those arrested for other offenses. If bicycles and cameras aren't held as evidence in other crimes, then they shouldn't be held for protest offenses. That would be discriminatory. With the outcome of the Democratic nomination decided in advance, there will be a lot of reporters and bloggers, including videobloggers, looking for the off-beat story. That means covering the protesters. Any mishaps are sure to make the nightly news and blanket the blogosphere. With a lot of advance planning and extra police training, which the DPD says it says it's been doing, and reviewing mistakes of other cities in the past, from Chicago in 1968 to New York in 2004, the Denver Police Department has the opportunity to shine. Let's hope they do so.

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