UW to keep tabs on police
Nothing puts a chill on a protest-organizing meeting like the idea that someone in the room could be a police spy. Two University of Washington activists described the feeling July 8 at a news conference where the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington called on the UW to prohibit its police department from engaging in any more political surveillance.
The surveillance came to light after members of the UW’s Student/Worker Coalition found out that a plainclothes UW officer had attended one of their meetings in April. University records subsequently obtained by the ACLU through public disclosure showed that the officer had also spied on a previous meeting and that UW police had kept information on the coalition’s and other groups’ political beliefs. These actions were in violation of the department’s own policy, which restricts intelligence-gathering to criminal investigations (“UW’s eye on protected activity,” RC July 7-13, 2010).
The surveillance “really did derail us,” Sarah White, a member of the Student/Worker Coalition, said at the news conference. “There was a lot of fear and a lot of mistrust, which we had to spend a lot of time trying to overcome.”
When news of the surveillance first broke in April, says Eric Godfrey, the university’s vice president for student life and the administrator in charge of UW police, he immediately told Chief John Vinson to stop the activity. It’s possible surveillance could be used again, he says, but to ensure the focus is on crime and not activism, UWPD’s policy will be updated to require his approval for any future covert operation. Police officers will also take a retraining on the policy prior to the start of fall quarter, he says.
“There’s some confusion about political activity and potential criminal activity,” says Godfrey
Well, the UW is full of poo again; the UW Tacoma campus just this past March helped the Tacoma PD spy on legal protest at the federal courthouse in downtown Tacoma. When asked about it, they sent an email and said they had done nothing wrong. The protest was not a direct action, and was arranged ahead of time with Tacoma Police. There were no arrests, but there were four Tacoma and one Fife cop with cameras, taking pictures anyway. See the link for more details, including our own pictures of the watchers.
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