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Police spying in Denver - Denver opens 3,200 `spy files'

by Associated Press, CNN, 4 September 2002


DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- Holding a just-released 18-page file that had been secretly compiled about her by police, activist Barbara Cohen smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

"Don't I look like a dangerous criminal?" the barely 5-foot tall, 53-year-old gray-haired legal secretary asked.

About 200 people crowded the lobby of Police Department headquarters Tuesday after officials opened 3,200 "spy files" on local activists and organizations.

City officials have conceded police went too far when they began documenting individuals and groups some three years ago. Mayor Wellington Webb, himself the subject of police surveillance when he was a young activist, has condemned the practice. He said it violated city policy.

Many who waited for up to an hour to see their file received papers that still smelled of black marker where police had deleted the names of people linked to them. Some of these files, which were categorized by groups, individuals and incidents, contained inaccurate information, some said.

Cohen, who belongs to the group End the Politics of Cruelty, said she is considering a lawsuit after police linked her to a motorcycle group she never heard of.

News that religious and peace groups were among those placed under surveillance since about 1999 drew charges of police misconduct, an investigation by a three-judge panel and the decision to let some people see their files before the reports are purged.

Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, had a file for speaking at a rally in February 2000, which he insisted he didn't attend.

"It sounds like I ran my mouth off at a rally, but I wasn't there," he said.

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was listed as a criminal extremist group by police, according to the ACLU.

So was the Chiapas Coalition, which supports the Mayans of the Chiapas state in Mexico where there have been guerrilla uprisings.

Amnesty International was listed as a civil disobedience group.

Some officers were not properly trained in intelligence gathering and some people and groups may have been misclassified as criminal extremists, said C.L. Harmer, spokeswoman for the Department of Safety, which oversees the police department.

The system has been examined by outside auditors and training is under way, she said.

Criminal intelligence gathering, however, remains an important police tool, Harmer added.

"As we approach 9-11, I think it reaffirms the legitimate use of legitimate criminal files," she said.

Records of people not suspected of crimes will be released to those people, then purged after Nov. 1. However, the city attorney's office will keep copies of all files, including those eliminated by police.

The names of people or groups considered legitimate targets of surveillance, as determined by an outside auditor, will remain in the files and won't be released.

Copyright © 2002 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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