Will Philadelphia respect decades-old restriction on police spying at the DNC?

     Philadelphia police are shown facing protesters outside of City Hall on the opening day of the 2000 Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

    Philadelphia police are shown facing protesters outside of City Hall on the opening day of the 2000 Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

    As part of Philadelphia’s Democratic National Convention security plan, law enforcement will inevitably engage in surveillance and infiltration, tactics that have been part of contemporary policing’s “playbook” since being reinvigorated at the 2000 at the Republican National Convention.

    With the Democratic National Convention fast approaching, the City of Philadelphia is collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies to develop a security plan for the gala political affair designated a “national special security event.”

    Inevitably, as part of the security plan, which has so far been shrouded in secrecy, law enforcement will engage in surveillance and infiltration. Such tactics have been part of a contemporary policing “playbook” reinvigorated in 2000 at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that summer.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Guarding against improper infiltration

    However, infiltration by the Philadelphia Police Department was and still is restricted by a 1987 mayoral directive. The little-known yet historic directive stems from the lawsuit Pledge of Resistance, et. al., v. We the People 200, et. al., which was filed after the PPD admitted to infiltrating political groups protesting at the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

    David Kairys, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time that activists had helped establish “the best procedure in the United States” to protect against improper intelligence gathering. Indeed, the civil rights lawsuit filed by Kairys of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, along with the National Lawyers Guild, and ACLU, had far-reaching implications at a time of public outrage over domestic spying.

    Kairys, who sued the city to help bring public oversight to the Philadelphia’s infiltration activities, said the directive and subsequent settlement agreement were meant to act as a “very strong deterrent” against continued abuse by placing greater responsibility on the city.

    Then-Mayor Wilson Goode also expressed support for restrictions on police infiltration. Just days after the court issued a preliminary injunction in the case, Goode stated, “The city recognizes that the plaintiff groups have played a positive role in making our Constitution a vital document.”

    Seeking to promote transparency and ensure an end to abusive spying, Goode’s directive requires the PPD to get approval from the city’s managing director before the police can infiltrate nonviolent political groups. In records recently obtained by Philadelphia journalist Dustin Slaughter, PPD confirmed that the policy is still in effect and embodied in its Standards and Procedures manual for the department’s intelligence unit.

    Charges of state and city collusion

    Yet, 12 years after the Pledge of Resistance case was settled, political groups protesting at the 2000 RNC were again heavily infiltrated. The city denied any connection to the infiltration, despite local police involvement in a coordinated multi-agency “command center,” much like today’s fusion center, located in South Philadelphia, which is expected to share intelligence during the DNC.

    The Pennsylvania State Police eventually admitted to using at least 10 troopers to infiltrate activist groups and spaces, most notably a West Philadelphia warehouse, where puppets, signs, and banners were being made. The Philadelphia police conveniently used intelligence gathered by state troopers as well as outlandish claims of explosives to obtain a search warrant, pre-emptively raid the warehouse, and arrest more than 70 people inside.

    Despite the fabricated story of explosives and the dismissal of all the resulting criminal cases, the Philadelphia police evaded responsibility and claimed no connection to the intelligence gathering efforts of the state police.

    When pressed by criminal defense attorneys on whether the police did an end-run around the consent decree, police officials denied any wrongdoing.

    News of the police infiltration did not become public until a month after the RNC protests, when the city finally unsealed the search warrant used to raid the warehouse. Upon learning of the infiltration, the Philadelphia Inquirer questioned the city about the mayoral directive but received no comment.

    ‘A contingent of “secret police” … is disturbing.’

    In a November 2000 editorial, “Rock-a-Bye, Constitutional Rights,” the Philadelphia Daily News addressed the revelation of widespread infiltration and held that “a contingent of ‘secret police,’ no matter how well-intentioned, is disturbing.”

    With less than two months before the DNC, questions of whether politically motivated infiltration will occur again, and whether Philadelphia is truly a sanctuary from abusive spying, are ripe once again.

    Some groups anticipate that the city may once again evade its own restrictions on police infiltration this summer and use intelligence gathered by the state police or some other law enforcement agency to disrupt political activity.

    “Activists planning to protest at the DNC this July should not be forced to endure police infiltration without some measure of accountability,” said Sue Udry, director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation, one of the groups planning to protest at the DNC this July. “We will not accept weak pretexts and evasive maneuvers by the city in an effort to suppress our free speech rights.”

    The local fusion center — a law enforcement hub through which intelligence will be shared among various agencies — is under the command of Philadelphia Police Inspector Walt Smith, making it more difficult for the PPD to deny involvement and complicity in whatever infiltration is carried out.

    Kairys, now a Temple Law School professor, recently said that if the city is privy to politically motivated infiltration by police without any evidence of violence, “then it would violate people’s rights under the mayoral directive.”

    Udry echoed that concern and said she was hopeful that city Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis “can help keep the police in check this time around.”

    Neither the managing director’s office nor the Temple law department responded to questions about the mayoral directive before publication.

    Kris Hermes is an activist, legal worker, and author of “Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000” (PM Press).

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal