Transparency News, 7/27/20


July 27, 2020
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state & local news stories
"There clearly are some portions, parts, items, or information redacted from the report that appear to the Court not to be tactical plans or that at least would not jeopardize the safety or security of law enforcement or the public.”

The White state trooper leaned into the Black driver’s car. “You are going to get your ass whooped,” he said before pulling the man from the car and making good on his promise. Virginia State Police Superintendent Gary Settle offered a swift condemnation of the behavior when video of the incident was released earlier this month, promising a criminal investigation. But otherwise, the department has refused to release details about the trooper, Charles Hewitt, seen in the footage of the 2019 arrest, declining to say whether he’s faced other complaints in the past or provide reports detailing them. In many states, such information would be a matter of public record, including Minnesota, where Minneapolis police quickly disclosed that the officer filmed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck had been the subject of 18 prior complaints, two of which resulted in discipline. Virginia, however, is one of 23 states in which records of police misconduct are effectively confidential, according to a nationwide review by WNYC.
Virginia Mercury

After months of delays and nearly three years after the Unite the Right rally, Virginia State Police counsel is expected to respond this week to a judge’s order that a release of their rally operations plan was overly redacted. The legal saga has been plagued by disagreements between the parties over which parts of the plan should be redacted and, more recently, by delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The state police now have until Thursday to respond to a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge’s ruling that portions of the report released to the complainants are overly redacted. In March 2020, Judge Richard E. Moore ruled on the complainants’ motion, in part agreeing that the plan had been overly redacted. “Upon review, there clearly are some portions, parts, items, or information redacted from the report that appear to the Court not to be tactical plans or that at least would not jeopardize the safety or security of law enforcement or the public, or that I cannot say for sure are such tactical plans that might endanger the safety of law enforcement or the public,” he wrote.
The Daily Progress

Charlottesville officials charged more than $839,000 to credit cards in the first six months of the year, boosted by measures to protect employees and implement safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Daily Progress obtained statements for all 159 city credit cards between Jan. 1 and June 30 through a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The pandemic led to a slew of charges for safety measures, but also resulted in some savings, as planned conferences were canceled. City officials spent at least $142,415 on supplies directly related to the pandemic. Other charges related to the pandemic were for cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, gloves, thermometers, electronic meeting software and quarantine lodging. Officials also purchased several items to make interacting with the public safer, such as plastic walls and social distancing displays.
The Daily Progress

Amid a national protest movement calling for police reform, the Arlington County Police Department launched an effort to consider ways to further restrict public access to law enforcement radio communications. Unlike D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, which encrypts all but one channel, Arlington’s police channels have been mostly open to public monitoring — by those with scanners or smartphone apps — with the exception of some devoted to sensitive operations. That may be about to change. “A radio workgroup has been established to review our current practices to ensure they are aligned with procedures that protect the privacy of involved parties, ensure the integrity of operations and investigations, and reduce the unintentional disclosure of tactical information,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. The workgroup started its work in June. The workgroup’s existence had not been previously reported. The revelation comes after ARLnow — which monitors police and fire department frequencies — noticed several weeks ago that we were no longer able to hear radio traffic on ACPD 1B, a commonly-used channel. Late last year, Arlington County started disabling public traffic camera feeds during routine crashes and other incidents, similarly citing privacy concerns.
stories of national interest
A federal judge on Wednesday said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal recordkeeping laws by using his personal email account to conduct government business. As such, the judge ruled that Ross’s nongovernmental email account would be subject to discovery in a lawsuit over his agency’s records. The decision stems from a 2017 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by advocacy group Democracy Forward which sought all “communications made or received in connection with the transaction of government business using any nongovernmental email account . . . established, controlled, or used by Secretary Ross.”
Law & Crime

The city's police and firefighter unions filed a lawsuit this week seeking to halt the public disclosure of portions of police officers' and firefighters' disciplinary records. A judge on Friday temporarily blocked the City of Buffalo (New York) from publicly releasing three types of records in employees' disciplinary files: unsubstantiated allegations, pending allegations and matters that were the subject of confidential settlement agreements. State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita III issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits the city and the police and fire departments from releasing such information. Sedita scheduled a hearing on the matter for next month. In June, following a change in state law known as "50-A," the disciplinary records of police officers and firefighters were no longer permitted to be withheld from public requests made through the Freedom of Information Law. But attorneys for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association and Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association, Local 282, argue the city should still be bound from releasing information about disciplinary matters involving unsubstantiated or pending allegations, or subject to confidential settlement agreements, based on other legal protections. Those include the local union contracts and the state constitution.
The Buffalo News

The Pentagon's program to identify and explain unidentified flying objects, UFOs, is now being coordinated by the Office of Naval Intelligence and may reveal some findings about mysterious, unexplained aerial phenomena to the public, according to a report by the New York Times on Thursday. Buried in a Senate Committee on Intelligence report submitted by Marco Rubio on July 17 is a section on "Advanced Aerial Threats" which discusses the efforts of the "Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force."  The report suggests the task force has been established to "standardize collection and reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena," the links they may have to foreign governments and the threat they pose to the US military. The Times says Pentagon officials will not discuss the program. 

editorials & columns
"Aside from the shock of information stolen from more than 200 police departments, it’s stunning how few people, even in law enforcement, know about this."
One of the biggest data breaches in U.S. law enforcement history took place in June. Oh, what? Nobody told you. Not surprising. This is a humiliation of the highest order. Police aren’t releasing statements divulging it. Most of the leaked data appears to have been stolen from so-called fusion centers, which meld local, state and federal intelligence officers into an intelligence-sharing consortium. The spies got spied upon. And now some of what they know is out there for the world to see. Even though I’m The Watchdog, I’m not gloating. This is dangerous on so many levels and should never have happened. (Note that I’m not divulging individuals’ information here.)  Aside from the shock of information stolen from more than 200 police departments, it’s stunning how few people, even in law enforcement, know about this. The leak -- apparently done in sympathy with anti-police activists -- consists of 269 gigabytes worth of information. By my math, as an indicator, that’s the equivalent of about 182 million pages of texts. But these files contained videos, photos, spreadsheets and other file formats, too.
Dave Lieber, The Dallas Morning News