Federal officials are circulating to all 18,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies a short video explaining that police officers are responsible for protecting citizens’ privacy, civil rights and civil liberties. Thomas O’Reilly of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance says the video was developed after incidents of excesses by some police departments. In 2008, for example, it emerged that the Maryland State Police had classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered information on them into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects.
O’Reilly, who oversees a national Suspicious Activity Reporting program, says that police should be recording specific behavior that may be a precursor to terrorism, not listing people as suspicious based on their personal backgrounds. The new video is being distributed by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. The video says it provides “positive and negative examples of privacy, civil rights and civil liberties-protection encounters with law enforcement officers.” O’Reilly noted that because state and local laws on privacy and civil liberties differ, the video does not attempt to make definitive statements about what police officers may and may not do. He spoke at a session of the IJIS Institute, a government-industry collaboration that promotes information-sharing in criminal justice. The meeting concluded Saturday in Jersey City, N.J.