Tailgate: Phoenix’s Surveillance Scandal Spirals Out of Control

from Down and Drought

ASU FOOTBALL FANS, CITY COUNCILMEN, ACTIVISTS AND ANARCHISTS ALL BECOME TARGETS OF THE WIDENING AND SUSPICIOUS GAZE OF BIG BROTHER

Is this a photo of the “War of the Worlds” spy camera that provoked Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio into action against the encroaching Big Brother state this week?

In various Facebook posts and media interviews, the councilman for the upscale Phoenix neighborhoods Ahwatukee and Arcadia says he was just enjoying a good time tailgating at the ASU-USC game at Sun Devil Stadium when he and his friends noticed a curious white truck from the Phoenix Police Department patrolling the parking lot.   Protruding out of the bed of the truck was “a tall adjustable spire” with a sci-fi look to it and a camera, scanning the assembled fans and their hot dogs.

“I was just frustrated, and I wasn’t happy about it,” the councilman told the Arizona Republic  “Why does Phoenix police send out a truck with a camera videotaping tailgaters? … It’s just one more level of intrusion by the government looking into our personal lives.”

DiCiccio made several inquiries and after ASU and Tempe initially denied involvement Phoenix stepped forward to claim credit, in a way, and to tell us all to relax: the spying was for our own good and they didn’t really feel like explaining much more about it.  So there.  If you’re not satisfied with that then you’re supporting the terrorists.

Mayor Stanton put it this way:

“The suggestion is that we shouldn’t provide homeland security support to another jurisdiction unless it rises to the level where we’re ready to arrest somebody,” Stanton said as he stood in front of Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.

“I think most people, both in the law enforcement world and then families who are attending this game, would probably disagree. … Rather, what is in the best interest of keeping tens of thousands of people attending a game safe.”

What size hot dog is that in your hand, citizen?  The state needs to know to keep you safe.  From terrorists.  Or maybe just protesters.

Because, dear reader, you may find it interesting to know that the photo above of the PPD’s spy cam didn’t come from the ASU-USC game.   That photo was taken at a protest in 2012, when thousands of Unitarian Universalists bused themselves into town from around the country for their national conference and held a highly regulated and peaceful protest against SB1070 in front of Arpaio’s tent city gulag.

The PPD positioned the surveillance device by the entrance to the rally, presumably recording everyone coming in and out of the protest zone.  Indeed, this caused quite a bit of controversy because police, perhaps tipped off by the towering eye in the sky, singled out several local protesters, anarchists mostly, and then proceeded to exclude them from the protest with the cooperation of out of state UU organizers (who may not have understood that they were being manipulated by PPD’s red squad).

Cops wait for anarcho-Qaeda among the Unitarians — via AzCentral

In the emails below, PPD terror cop Brenda Dowhan (who was PPD’s main internet spy during Occupy Phoenix) is discussing putting together a “face sheet” so that cops can identify specific activists at the Unitarian protest, and expressing her concerns about anarchists and which of them ought to go on the sheet.

In one case she’s reaching out to Tempe terror cop Derek Pittam for his input. Pittam himself is famous recently for having massively over-reacted to community gardeners, deploying undercovers and riot cops to stop the planting of of veggies in an empty lot in downtown Tempe.

This face sheet is to be used to pick out undesirables, despite no criminal allegations against them, and eliminate them from the protest.  She also references a previous face sheet that was created in collaboration with various private and federal intelligence agencies for the anti-ALEC protests that took place the previous April.  Of course, this raises the question of whether the Phoenix cops’ spy toy has facial recognition technology.

Again, no one made any allegation that these protesters had committed any crime.  The basis for the special attention seems to have been their participation in Occupy Phoenix, according to emails released by the PPD to investigator Beau Hodai.  And, as we’ve cataloged here at Down and Drought, the PPD was involved in a long and detailed surveillance operation against local anarchists and Occupy Phoenix activists, which included information sharing with private and corporate security companies, as well as the Feds via the local fusion center.

One indication, that we’re looking at the same spy device, aside from the striking similarity to DiCiccio’s description, is the fact that the PPD’s own explanation of their ASU operation matches up with the way it was used in 2012.  Responding to the Republic, the PPD reported the device was “part of a multi-jurisdictional operation to monitor entry and exit points from the stadium area from a homeland security perspective.”

The cops describe their ASU surveillance operation as part of Urban Areas Security Initiative, a federal grant that funds the equipment.  And of course homeland security is big business.  The chart above, taken from DHS’s report “The State of Arizona’s Management of Urban Areas Security Initiative Grants Awarded During Fiscal Years 2007 through 2009,” shows the many millions of dollars that flowed into Arizona via homeland security grants in just a few years — millions that bought equipment just like that spying on local activists and football fans.

And, of course, it’s not just a bounty for local law enforcement agencies.  As an upcoming Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce event indicates, local companies are keen to strap on the federal feedbag as well.  Innocuously entitled “Doing Business with the Federal Government,” check out the teaser:

The federal budget is more than $1 trillion, with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security spending a combined $20 billion in Arizona alone in 2012. Through this highly-interactive presentation, you will learn how to get started on earning some of that business for your company, find out about available assistance, gain insight into future trends and share your successes and challenges of doing business with the federal government.

Twenty billion dollars is a lot of dough.  And it buys a lot of equipment.  Although their website claims the GPCC “pursues and promotes a free market,” they don’t hesitate to line up for the government slop when its feeding time.  Even when it comes at the expense of our freedom.  Isn’t that interesting?
And, of course, the other part of the equation in Tempe is the city’s recent crackdown on what they call “rowdyism.”  Essentially a counter-insurgency crackdown on fun with the aim of pacifying the area around ASU for developers, the city flooded the downtown neighborhoods with overwhelming police force for three weekends in a row, including enlisting the help of the notoriously racist MCSO, making thousands of arrests with contact rates rivaling NYPD’s racist “stop and frisk.”  All in an alleged effort to stop college drinking.  Sound familiar?  In his response to DiCiccio, Mayor Stanton claimed that ASU requested the surveillance, which was confirmed by the ASU PD.

Clearly this has to viewed in the larger context of the crackdown in Tempe.  Perhaps, surprised at the level of resistance their “Safe and Sober” campaign received, ASU and the city have turned to other means.  Or maybe this is just a case of mission creep.  After all, despite local terror cops assertions, not much in the way of terrorism is happening in the Valley.  But once you got the tools, you gotta use them for something.

It’s worth pointing out that these police activities aren’t just problems of Big Brother, personal data and privacy.  They can be about life and death.  The militarization of the police has consequences, sometimes deadly. They certainly were on the first day of phase two of Tempe’s “zero tolerance” crackdown on “rowdyism”, when Tempe police responding to a call about a man with a box cutter gunned down Austin Del Castillo in plain daylight at the intersection of Mill and University.

In that case police claimed they “feared for their lives”.  But doesn’t the deployment of spy cameras against activists and football fans indicate the same level of fear, this time of the population at large — a general criminalization of society in which we are all assumed to be guilty rather than innocent, each of us a potential threat.  And, as we see, when we accept this augment for increased police power in one case, it quickly gets turned to broader use.  What was bought under the excuse of fighting terrorism first becomes a tool for tracking activists and disrupting their activism, and then the next thing you know there’s an embarrassing photo of your drunk-ass puking your brains out in a DHS database.

With cities facing an alleged budget crunch, and politicians like DiCiccio calling for union busting under the argument that we can’t afford them, maybe it’s time to look to a fire sale of police hardware to get us out of the red.  How about we de-certify the police union as punishment for their over-reaching.  The cops clearly can’t use either their power or their toys responsibly.  Plus, it could do far more than save other innocent public workers from needless cuts to pensions and salaries.  Think of the payoff in terms of freedom!  Can you put a price tag on that?

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