AOH :: SQUAD.TXT|
Detroit police spy on various political, social, and cultural groups
THEY WERE SPYING ON US:
The Detroit Police Red Squad Surveillance Program, 1945-1974
Why the Detroit Police RED SQUAD?
For many years, the Detroit Police Department had been gathering
information on various political, social and cultural activities of citizens
and visitors to the city. This surveillance program, organized under a
specially created police unit known as the "Red Squad", was never publicly
The files contain facts, photos, newspaper articles and other information
about individuals and organizations which were kept secret and under police
Despite an untold number of police hours and dollars spent in this effort,
no legislation and no criminal prosecutions ever resulted from the work of the
Those who were surveilled.
Estimates indicate the files include the names of 1.5 million individuals
and organizations. The Red Squad accumulated its data by attending, and
frequently taking photographs of all sorts of gatherings -- union meetings,
political rallies, demonstrations, art shows, consumer protection efforts,
rock festivals, theater parties, anti-Vietnam war seminars and other
activities. Spies and informers, all unidentified of course, were employed
to help the police at these functions.
Much of the Red Squad's surveillance was coordinated with federal agencies,
other state and local agencies and private organizations.
The Results of 17 Years of Litigation.
In 1973, several citizens brought suit against the State of Michigan and
City of Detroit. Their suspicions were aroused by the presence of
unidentified video cameras at Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the taking of
auto license numbers and other overt signs of surveillance. The lawsuit
resulted in bringing to light the massive extent of police spying that took
place since about 1945. It was also revealed that a Detroit Police Red
Squad had been operating as early as the 1930's, but most of these files no
longer exist. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the police ceased their
political surveillance of citizens.
However, negotiations for the release of the files took many years. In
1980, the Michigan State Police began its program of notification of
individuals by mailing letters to about 38,000 people. This program marked
the first mass notification and distribution of official police intelligence
abuses ever ordered by an American court.
The agreement to release the Detroit Police files was not finalized until
May, 1990. Because these records are not organized in a manner that would
lend itself to the same notification process utilized by the Michigan State
Police, individuals and organizations must apply to the Red Squad Notification
and Distribution Compliance Program for their files.
The agreement establishes a three person Board of Trustees to oversee and
supervise the program. At the end of its 16 month court authorized term, the
program may turn the files over to an archival repository for later
educational, historical or research purposes.
In addition to the direct and indirect interference with the First
Amendment rights of individuals, the police at times provided information
concerning employment relationships and engaged smear campaigns against
leaders and members of various organizations. The full extent of such damages
to the reputation, employment and other facets of the lives of the
individuals will probably never be known.
The individuals monitored by the police were targeted because they were
considered to be potential political threats; they were not necessarily
engaged in violence or illegal activities. Indeed, many names in the files
are of non-participating bystanders, including those who may have loaned a
car or attended a function out of pure curiosity (the taking of car license
numbers outside an event was a favorite police tactic to establish who was
An example of the consequences of Red Squad activity can be gleaned from
this excerpt of a Michigan State Police Report, 1950-51: "Information
obtained through the investigation is analyzed and applied in the most
appropriate manner to discourage the employment of subversive individuals who
attempt to infiltrate the educational field, government agencies and defense
Special Order by the Detroit Chief of Police.
The freedom to speak, to dissent, to write and publish, and to associate
privately and publicly for any lawful purpose, without governmental
interference or impairment, is of paramount importance to the citizens of
the City of Detroit. The purpose of this order is to insure that lawful
expressions, associations, opinions and beliefs are not impaired or
interfered with by intelligence or surveillance activities which may be
performed by the police department. It is intended that surveillance shall
be undertaken only in connection with the police department's law
enforcement activities and its internal disciplinary and residency
investigations. Accordingly, the following order is hereby adopted:
- The police department shall not engage in the collection, indexing,
maintenance or dissemination of information dealing with beliefs,
opinions, association, or expressions of any individuals, group or
organization, except in connection with such law enforcement activities as
it has under the charter and ordinances of the City of Detroit and the
constitution and laws of the State of Michigan.
- The surveillance or investigation of persons, groups or organizations
which is not reasonably and directly related to such law enforcement
activities is prohibited.
- William L. Hart,
Chief of Police, Detroit
Jan. 7, 1982
How to Obtain Your File.
To request a file for an individual or organization, an application
may be requested by mail or phone from the Red Squad Notification and
Distribution Compliance Program. When the application is properly completed
and submitted, an effort will be made to locate and retrieve all relevant
information contained in the files. When the material is collected, the
applicant will be advised to pick up a copy of the file or, under special
circumstances, it will be sent to the person who is authorized to receive
it. All requests are completely confidential.
This process may require several weeks. Because the court ordered the
notification and distribution program to be completed within sixteen months,
applicants are advised to act promptly. The expiration date of the program
is September 10, 1991.
Please send me an application form so that I may seek any
information gathered by the Detroit Police Red Squad.
___ Individual or ___ Organization
Red Squad Notification and Distribution Compliance Program
800 Palms Building
Detroit, MI 48201
Or call 313-961-7010,
8:30 am to 4:30 pm EDT
Inquiries must be made before August 10, 1991.
Your Right to Privacy.
The lawsuit which exposed and brought to an end the practice in
Michigan of a secret police surveillance program serves to highlight and
reinforce the right of every citizen's constitutional right to privacy.
The freedom to attend public meetings, to speak out on all political
issues, to petition, to pray -- all are part of our system of justice and
our democratic tradition. If the people allow government, at any level,
to intrude on our privacy, and to undermine and subvert these freedoms,
we run the risk of surrendering our basic rights.
By making the Red Squad files available to all who were objects of
illegal political surveillance, the public is once again reminded that a
free society cannot tolerate harassment and interference with those who
wish to express themselves publicly and legally about existing conditions
or needed changes.
For Deceased Individuals or Defunct Organizations.
The file of a deceased individual or an organization that is no longer
active may be obtained by anyone who can establish a rightful claim to the
information. For those who are believed to be so named, a spouse, for
example, or a near relative, may be eligible. A person may apply for the
file by submitting proper documentation. Similarly, past officers or other
officials of an organization which is defunct, must present proof of
affiliation with their application for the file.
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