32 Years Late, Memphis Officially Bans Political Surveillance


Thirty-two years after a federal consent decree banned political surveillance at the Memphis Police Department, the agency incorporated the order’s requirements into its policy and procedure manual, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Police Director Larry Godwin advised all personnel of the new policy forbidding political surveillance — the collection of data involving any person’s beliefs, opinions, associations or other First Amendment rights.

The development came a day after the Commercial Appeal reported that the department did not appear to be following provisions of a 1978 order that established safeguards to ensure the agency doesn’t engage in unlawful political surveillance. The city also has posted a copy of the 1978 order on its website. “It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a little late. Where’s it been in the last 32 years?” asked Bruce Kramer, a Memphis attorney whose lawsuit on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union triggered the landmark 1978 order. “But the more substantive issue is: What have they been doing with regard to surveillance of activities which are protected by the First Amendment?” City Attorney Herman Morris said he’s not aware of any actual unlawful surveillance but said the city moved promptly to ensure that it was complying with the order’s reporting and public posting provisions.

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