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Answers Sought on "Spy Files" 

Council asks for briefing on police intelligence-gathering

The Colorado Springs City Council has asked the city's police department to give a public briefing on its policies and procedures in the wake of revelations that the department helped Denver police spy on peace activists in the Springs.

City Manager Lorne Kramer, meanwhile, said he wants to know whether the police department's own intelligence-gathering policies may have been violated.

As originally reported by the Independent last week, records from the Denver Police Department's controversial "spy files" show that Springs police spied on peaceful demonstrators in at least one past instance. During a peaceful demonstration at Peterson Air Force Base in March 1999, local police recorded the vehicle license-plate numbers of people in attendance and provided the information to Denver police.

Denver police also traveled to Colorado Springs to directly monitor peace activists -- which local police would have known about, according a Denver police spokeswoman.

The existence of Denver's "spy files" -- intelligence records that police kept on some 3,200 groups and individuals engaged in lawful political activities -- was revealed last March, causing a furor and a federal lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. The ACLU argues that keeping files on people for simply participating in political activities creates a "chilling effect" on their First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.

The Denver intelligence records include files on several Colorado Springs individuals and at least two locally based peace groups, Citizens for Peace in Space and the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission.

Hard time defending

At this week's Monday council meeting, several City Council members raised questions and concern about the surveillance, and Colorado Springs Police Department's involvement in compiling information on citizens.

"I'm having a hard time defending it in public," Councilman Richard Skorman.

Skorman asked City Manager Lorne Kramer, who was the city's police chief at the time of the documented surveillance, for a future presentation on the police department's intelligence-gathering policies.

No set date was scheduled for the briefing, but Councilman Jim Null said he would like it held during a regular council meeting, "where the public can hear it."

Null said he also wants information about the police department's policies for sharing intelligence with other law-enforcement agencies.

Councilman Charles Wingate said that while police are justified in providing security during protest events, he didn't like the notion of them engaging in surreptitious surveillance of peaceful activists.

"I'm not really sure about the taking down of license plates," Wingate said.

Vice Mayor Lionel Rivera, meanwhile, said he believed the police department had acted appropriately.

"I think it's a legitimate activity on the part of the police department," he said.

On their watch

Though local police have previously denied keeping intelligence files on peaceful activists, they now say such files could be kept on a person who's suspected of being connected to possible criminal activity. Many local peace activists have long track records of being arrested and convicted of misdemeanors in connection with nonviolent civil-disobedience actions.

Neither Chief Luis Velez, nor ex-Chief Kramer, would comment specifically on the documented instance in which Colorado Springs police helped spy on local activists, saying they were not directly familiar with the incident.

Velez speculated, however, that Denver police probably requested help gathering information in connection with the demonstration. That kind of cooperation is common, he said.

"Every day, we supply each other with information," Velez said. "That's nothing unusual."

A request would usually be honored if the argument is made that there's a "reasonable suspicion" of criminal activity in connection with the event, Velez said.

Velez and Kramer both said police department intelligence policies are adequate to ensure files aren't kept on people for simply attending peaceful, legal events.

However, the 1999 demonstration at Peterson went off without any criminal activity. Despite that fact, Springs police passed along the license-plate numbers of some 30 people in attendance, which ended up in Denver's permanent intelligence files.

That may not have been proper, Kramer conceded.

"If there's no reason to connect them with some criminal activity and it was just a peaceful demonstration, there's no justification for those people going into a file," he said. "I would agree with that totally."

Kramer said he has asked Velez for more information about the specific incident. "I just want to make sure that there wasn't some violation of our policy," Kramer said.

-- Terje Langeland

  • Council asks for briefing on police intelligence-gathering

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