Nearly 260 pages of New York Police Department (NYPD) internal documents, published by The Verge yesterday (March 22), indicate that the department deployed video teams to more than 400 Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street affiliated actions going back to 2011.
The Verge reports that New York-based attorney David Thompson of Stecklow & Thompson secured the documents through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request into the NYPD’s surveillance of protests. Thompson clarified to Colorlines that this request was separate from one filed by James Logue, an activist he represented in litigation that led to a New York Supreme Court justice recently ordering the NYPD to release surveillance information of a 2014 Black Lives Matter protest.
The records are job reports from the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU), and they reveal instances where TARU’s video team was sent to attend and sometimes film Black Lives Matter actions in 2016 and Occupy ones between 2011 and 2013.
The documents do not reveal, however, whether or not any of these deployments were subject to departmental review or authorization. The Verge refers to Interim Order 22, which outlines NYPD protocol for filming public activities. It includes a provision that requires the department’s deputy commissioner of legal matters to review demonstration filming requests, then forward approved ones to TARU’s commanding officer and the requester’s relevant borough commander or bureau department chief. Thompson told Colorlines that the department said it could not locate those authorizations.
"This process is intended to be a control to ensure there’s an adult in the room, a legally trained adult in this case, who is able to understand whether or not the filming conforms to police guidelines or not," Thompson told The Verge.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant and educator at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told The Verge that he believes the department’s top officials either don’t want to follow department rules or don’t want to share sensitive information. "If an officer sends something to the legal bureau, it gets a number and gets recorded, then it’s forwarded to whoever and gets another number," he says. "No captain is going to take it upon himself to request a filming without any record because otherwise they’re asking for a lot of trouble from the ACLU. So let’s put it this way, those things shouldn’t get lost."
The Verge explains why these videos could potentially be damaging to protestors:
One record from May 19th, 2016, for example, shows that Deputy Inspector Andrew Lombardo requested copies of NYPD videos of "mass arrests" at a December 4th, 2014 Black Lives Matter protest. The review request seems unusual because Lombardo is not a member of the NYPD’s Legal Bureau; he is a high-ranking officer within the Strategic Response Group, the department’s specialized protest and counterterrorism response unit. Lombardo has been frequently accused in the past of personally targeting and interrogating protestors, using techniques from his past experience overseeing detainees in Iraq.
Patrick Waldo, one of many Black Lives Matter protestors arrested on December 4th, 2014, worries about what Lombardo may be doing with such footage almost a year and a half after the arrests. "The fact that he can go to that archival footage is very unsettling," says Waldo, who claims that Lombardo, as head of the SRG, is frequently at Black Lives Matter actions. "He’s most likely putting together profiles of protestors so he can identify people exercising their First Amendment rights, and that’s really creepy."
The NYPD did not respond to The Verge’s requests for comment on its article, which you can read in full here.