By Walker, Jesse
Reason , Vol. 34, No. 2
WHEN THE STANDUP comic Lenny Bruce started getting busted for obscenity, he worked his court transcripts and police reports into his act, reading them aloud in lieu of telling jokes. There may come a day when Denver dissidents find similar fun in the political dossiers gathered by local police and leaked recently to the American Civil Liberties Union. Members of the American Friends Service Committee, for example, may someday chuckle over the file that declared the Quaker organization a "criminal extremist group." For now, though, they're just angry.
According to local authorities, the spies simply misinterpreted the scope of the city's criminal intelligence, leading--in the words of C.L. Harmer of the Denver Department of Safety--to "an overly broad interpretation of a sound policy." Police keep files on criminals and those who interact with them all the time, Harmer notes. In this case, officers extended their surveillance to activities that were not criminal at all, even though department guidelines state that police "shall not collect or maintain criminal intelligence information about the political, religious, or social views, associations, or activities of any individual...unless such information directly relates to criminal conduct or activity."
That plain language has led several activists to doubt the city's story. "I've heard that policy read aloud," comments Maxine Lankford of Denver Cop-Watch. …