In five internal reports made public Thursday as part of a lawsuit,
New York City police commanders candidly discuss how they had successfully used
"proactive arrests," covert surveillance and psychological tactics
at political demonstrations in 2002, and recommend those approaches be employed
at future gatherings.
Among the most effective strategies, one police captain wrote, was
the seizure of demonstrators on 5th Avenue who were described as "obviously
The reports provide a glimpse of internal police evaluations and strategies
on security and free speech issues that have provoked sharp debate between city
officials and political demonstrators since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The reports also made clear what the police have yet to discuss publicly: The
department uses undercover officers to infiltrate political gatherings and monitor
Indeed, one of the documents--a draft report from the department's Disorder
Control Unit--proposed in blunt terms the resumption of a covert tactic that
had been disavowed by the city and the federal government 30 years earlier.
Under the heading of recommendations, the draft suggested, "Utilize undercover
officers to distribute misinformation within the crowds."
Asked about the proposal, Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police
Department, said Thursday: "The NYPD does not use police officers in any
capacity to distribute misinformation."
Use of police vehicles praised
Browne also said the "proactive" arrests referred to in the report--numbering
about 30--involved protesters with pipes and masks who he said presented an
In another report, a police inspector praised the "staging of massive
amounts" of armored vehicles, prisoner wagons and jail buses in the view
of the demonstrators, writing that the sight "would cause them to be alarmed."
Besides the draft report, the documents released Thursday included four final
reports written by commanders to assess police performance during the World
Economic Forum, which convened in New York from Jan. 31 to Feb. 4, 2002.
Security was extremely tight around Midtown Manhattan, where the delegates
to the economic forum were meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria, and demonstrators
were kept blocks from the hotel.
Officials spoke of violence during anti-globalism protests at other high-profile
gatherings in Seattle and Genoa, Italy. But in the end, as one of the police
reports noted, "the amount of confrontation and number of arrests were
lower than expected."
Parts of that document and others were made public, over the objections of
the city, by a federal magistrate, Gabriel Gorenstein, who said the excerpts
went to the heart of a lawsuit brought by 16 people arrested at an animal-rights
demonstration during the economic forum. The police said they were blocking
the sidewalk and had refused to obey an order to disperse; the demonstrators
said no one told them to move.
Many of the issues in the animal-rights case, which challenge broad police
tactics and arrest strategies, resonate in more than 100 other lawsuits brought
against the city by demonstrators who were arrested at war protests, bicycle
rallies and during the Republican National Convention.
Daniel Perez, the lawyer representing the people arrested at the animal-rights
demonstration, argued that the police tactics "punish, control and curtail
the lawful exercise of 1st Amendment activities."
The Police Department and the city have said that preserving public order is
essential to protecting the civil rights of demonstrators and bystanders.
Opponent: Files indicate policy
Perez maintains that the police documents, taken together, show a policy of
pre-emptive arrests. The draft report discussed how early arrests could shape
future events. "The arrests made at West 59th Street and 5th Avenue set
a `tone' with the demonstrators and their possible plans at other demonstrations,"
the report stated.
The same tactic is cited in another report, dated Feb. 8, 2002, and signed
by Capt. Robert Bonifaci, commander of the Queens North Task Force. Bonifaci
wrote, "It should be noted that a large part of the success in policing
the major demonstration on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2002, was due in part to the proactive
arrest policy that was instituted at the start of the march at 59th Street and
Fifth Avenue, and directed toward demonstrators who were obviously potential
Elaborating on the report, Browne, the police spokesman, said plainclothes
officers saw a group of demonstrators put on masks as they drew near the Plaza
Hotel, then take out metal pipes and try to rush police lines.
Demonstrators arrested during the economic forum were held by the police for
up to 40 hours without seeing a judge--twice as long as people accused of murder,
rape and robbery arrested on those same days, Perez said.
Browne said the arrests were processed as quickly as possible and that protesters
were not singled out for longer detention.
The reports, which were heavily edited at the city's request, also discuss
the use of undercover officers at the protests. Capt. Timothy Hardiman wrote
that "the use of undercovers from narcotics provided useful information."