The Muslim Public Affairs Council says it's reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Police Department to prevent civil liberties violations under the city's Suspicious Activity Reporting program. SAR was developed in Los Angeles as a way to help prevent terrorist attacks, and has been replicated nationally in a number of cities.
The idea behind the program is that police often receive reports of strange behavior, but don't generally follow up unless a specific crime has been committed. The SAR program essentaily empowers police to act on things that may not be obviously criminal and shares such reports with a network of federal and local agencies.
The problem with the program, civil liberties advocates have said, is that innocuous activities — like taking pictures of an airplane, pointing binoculars at a bridge or praying in a parking lot — can look suspicious. And, they point out, when it comes to Muslim Americans, officers and civilians alike may be more likely to find normal behavior suspect. MPAC has been working to alter the program for some time. Today, they announced several agreed upon changes:
- Any reporting of incidents by law enforcement on individuals or groups must be connected to criminal activity.
- Any surveillance must have a nexus to terrorism.
- Any report that does not meet that standard will be purged from any intelligence gathering mechanism within LAPD.
- The Inspector General of LAPD, who is appointed by a civilian board of commissioners and is independent from LAPD, will audit the SAR program and will make the audit available for public review.
- LAPD will include a means to track racial bias within the SAR reports to determine if there is any ethnic profiling within the program.
MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati told KPCC's Frank Stoltze that he's happy with the changes, though some advocates might not be satisfied so long as SAR remains operational. “I have to commend them and proceeding with implementation of our concerns,” he said. Al-Marayati said he doesn't know if LAPD has been violating Angelinos' civil rights under the program. He said he trusts Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Anti-Terrorism unit. "I am concerned about ten or 20 years down the line,” he said.