City responds to ACLU's claim of police surveillance on BLM activists

(Undated) -- The City of Omaha is responding to claims from the ACLU of Nebraska that Omaha Police ran surveillance on black activists during last summer's civil unrest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska wrote a letter to Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer asking what kind of surveillance had been used against Black Lives Matter activists in the Omaha metro. In part, the letter sought to find out, "the extent and utility of Omaha Police Department surveillance of residents active in the racial justice movement."

The ACLU says they, through public records requests, OPD emails from last year that named local activists who have been involved in social justice movements and BLM demonstrations. The ACLU accuses the Omaha Police Department of running surveillance on the activists based on their causes, "rather than based upon reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct."

A portion of the letter reads:

After review of the information previously provided, we have significant concerns related to both the sheer extent of surveillance and its purpose. It appears to us surveillance reflected by the public records was linked to advocates’ beliefs about the need for police reform rather than to reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct or activity. Out of concern for the safety and rights of local Black activists and their allies, we respectfully seek immediate clarification on the following points.
1. What policy, if any, covers police corresponding about and monitoring lawful activities of advocates, such as a local advocate’s birthday party, a journalist posting a Facebook event for a city council meeting, or the ACLU’s legal clinic at Culxr House?
2. Did Command Staff authorize police surveillance of individuals associated with racial justice and/or police reform movements 2 following the initial protests at the end of May, 2020? Was the monitoring of the foregoing lawful activities consistent with your Department’s policies and procedures?
3. Did the surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists, including surveillance of chalking the sidewalks outside of OPD Headquarters, draw resources away from or otherwise interfere with other important police functions, such as genuine threats to public safety or investigation of serious crimes like sexual assaults or homicides?

On Thursday, Interim Omaha City Attorney Matt Kuhse issued the following statement:

The City of Omaha's Law Department is aware of the allegations raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding the Omaha Police Department viewing public social media posts.
This is not a form of surveillance as alleged by the ACLU. Phones were not wiretapped, residences were not monitored, and people were not followed. Law enforcement saw the public posts of people who volunteered this information in an open forum.
The ACLU takes issue and alleges that people were targeted because of their beliefs. That is not the case. Public social media posts were viewed to gather information on planned events that might require a police presence to control traffic, preserve the peace, and ensure the safety of all citizens.
As opposed to many planned events that occur in the City of Omaha, some groups chose not to give the Omaha Police Department and advance notice. In learning about planned events, the Omaha Police Department is better prepared to serve all the citizens in Omaha. - Matthew Kuhse

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content