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LAPD Provacateurs [LA Times 08-18-00]

by LA Times Saturday, Aug. 19, 2000 at 4:27 PM

The LA Times reports that in almost every major group of arrests this week, there just happened to be an undercover police presence. They were always there when events turned "violent" or "chaotic."

Friday, August 18, 2000

News from Los Angeles in the Los Angeles Times

Officers Kept Eye on Protests From Within

By BETH SHUSTER, Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department calls them "scouts," and they are so good at their job that, during this week's protests, some were shot at and others were arrested--by their own colleagues.

The LAPD undercover officers assigned to join the crowds of demonstrators drawn by the Democratic National Convention are a young, purposefully ragtag group that has blended easily and invisibly into the sea of young faces protesting downtown.

Throughout the week, they have provided a key element in the Police

Department's intelligence-gathering network, as they circulated unnoticed

within crowds across the city.

They mingle with different groups of protesters, relaying information back to intelligence officers working at several LAPD command posts.

The LAPD's undercover operation was "an extremely critical part of the [department's] plan," said Cmdr. Tom Lorenzen, who oversees the department's convention planning unit. "Without good intelligence, we would not be as efficient as we are."

But civil libertarians and protest organizers question whether the undercover officers are provocateurs or observers, particularly given the LAPD's dubious history of political spying.

Lisa Fithian, an organizer of D2KLA and the Direct Action Network, said

she is concerned that undercover police officers may have contributed to potentially wrongful arrests and possibly to the problems Monday evening, when police used horses and so-called less lethal weapons to disperse the crowd after a free concert by Rage Against the Machine.

"There are a lot of unknowns in this now," Fithian said. "The question is, do

they create problems in the midst of our meetings or actions?"

She said members of her group saw people dressed as protesters sitting in a

police car after Sunday's anti-police rally. And she said others in her group

reported that officers, again posing as protesters, flashed a police badge at the parking lot attendant to gain entrance to the Convergence Center, the group's organizing headquarters.

political dissenters dating to the "Red Squad" of the 1930s that regularly broke up union and leftist meetings, hustling protesters to jail. Then, in the late 1970s and 1980s, it was learned that officers from the department's Public Disorder Intelligence Division had infiltrated left-wing groups and that others had spied on local politicians and critics of the Police Department.

Shortly after the controversial revelations about the division in the 1980s, the department replaced it with the Anti-Terrorist Division and settled a lawsuit by agreeing to strict limits on its activities. Four years ago, however,

the civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department's management, relaxed many of the rules governing undercover operations.

As a result, the department now uses these officers routinely.

One morning this week, some of these undercover officers met before going

out on the streets in their work clothes: T-shirts and shorts, bandannas, thong

shoes and sneakers. They even are allowed to break department policy by

wearing beards and keeping their hair long. One wore a "Free Mumia"

bandanna, a reference to a Pennsylvania inmate on death row for killing a police officer. His face was unshaven, his hair tousled.

When asked if they were worried about getting swept up in trouble, they shrugged. It's all in a day's work for these officers.

One, however, said, smiling, that he was a little worried about being shot

"by one of those," pointing to fellow officers in uniform checking out shotguns.

In fact, a few were shot at by their colleagues with stinger rounds and

beanbag projectiles during Monday's melee in which hundreds of police

attempted to move the large crowd that lingered after the concert by rock group

Rage Against the Machine, police sources said. A day later, a couple of these undercover officers were arrested during a bicycle protest in which about 100 cyclists allegedly tried to block city streets, the sources said.

The arrests of 42 animal rights activists Tuesday--allegedly while in possession of materials authorities said could be made into homemade flamethrowers--came from information supplied by undercover officers, police sources said Thursday.

A Superior Court judge released 40 of the activists Thursday, however. Two

were held in lieu of ,000 and ,000 bail on felony vandalism charges.

When they were arrested Tuesday, all the activists asserted that they never had planned to destroy property.

Federal and other local agencies also had undercover officers working inside

the demonstrations this week, police sources said.

LAPD officials, who are reluctant to discuss details of their undercover

operation, say the information it gathered this week was invaluable.

Technology, LAPD officials say, has vastly improved the undercover

operation. The officers' use of cell phones to file continual reports, for example, has allowed commanders to make key decisions on a "real time" basis.

That intelligence has improved the department's ability to quickly move

officers to specific areas of trouble, officials said. Police at command posts who are watching live video from department helicopters also have sent theundercover officers to specific, potentially troublesome areas to provide information.

Intelligence officers working in several command posts throughout downtown were assigned to take information from the undercover officers.

That information then was immediately shared with commanders and lieutenants.

The undercover officers on the street were instructed to pay particular attention not only to gathering information about the protesters' plans but also to evidence of any weapons or hazardous materials in their possession.

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