Sunday, February 26, 2012

Support your local police, turn in your neighbor as "suspicious"

Since 9/11. there's been billions of $$$ spent on homeland security from the Federal Government.  Millions have come to Minnesota, about $13 $7 million has been spent to set up a fusion center called MNJAC (Minnesota Joint Analysis Center).  The fusion center in Minnesota became operational in 2005 without any legislative authorization or oversight.
Part of the MNJAC/Fusion Center responsibilities is to develop a process for doing "suspicious activity reports" (SARS) to be shared with Federal agencies and Minnesota state/local law enforcement entities.  MNJAC has been involved in training law enforcement personnel throughout the state in how to do these reports.

A "suspicious activity report" as defined by MNJAC, "means---any reported behavior or activity that may result in the reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, could occur or is being planned."  Local and state law enforcement throughout Minnesota are starting to implement SARS.

Until recently, SARS was public data at MNJAC. This allowed the public to keep tabs on how MNJAC was doing their job.  It is important that SARS not be used for reporting activities that are non-criminal activity, that compromise First Amendment Rights, encourage racial profiling, and trade off our civil liberties.  SARS were made "security information" by a declaration

SARS experience in Minnesota raises a number of questions how we are implementing the program being pushed by the Feds.

The Mall of America experience which has been highlighted by a national NPR/CIR report brings to attention how a local police department implements SARS, its problems, and need for public scrutiny.  The report found out that many people are stopped and inquired as part of the SARS process.  In my discussion with local law enforcement agencies there is activity going on with the SARS process, but to what extent I do not know.  Answers by most agencies have been evasive.  Secondly, I have not filed any Data Practices requests.

In the first ever audit of MNJAC's SARS, raises issues and concerns also.  Approximately 10% of the cases reviewed did not meet their definition of "reasonable suspicion".  The audit was done on files that MNJAC had 3 years ago.  The sampling of cases was small.

Local police departments and Sheriffs throughout Minnesota are beginning to do SARS.  What is their public accountability and reporting?  How about robust independent auditing?

As previously mentioned, MNJAC SARS are not available to the public as MPR reports, public safety commissioner quietly restricted so-called "suspicious-activity reports" from public scrutiny.  On the local level, Bloomington Police has done a similar declaration.  The Minnesota Department of Public Safety declaration to restrict public from access is as follows:

Suspicious activity reports are a major part of the MNJAC function.  You do not see "suspicious  activity reports" mentioned in the bill introduced at the Minnesota Legislature to authorize MNJAC. The bill will be heard this week.

But now if this bill gets you concerned, lurking at the Legislature is the true spectre of spying and surveillance, the law enforcement "intelligence gathering" bill.

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