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Big Brother Restrained

Citing civil-liberties concerns, Council kills ID policy

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Councilman Randy Purvis thinks the policy may keep citizens from exercising their right to address government officials. - J.K. SCHOFIELD
  • J.K. Schofield
  • Councilman Randy Purvis thinks the policy may keep citizens from exercising their right to address government officials.

C olorado Springs police have long kept tabs on who participates in political activism in the city, repeatedly writing down the license-plate numbers of people attending peace demonstrations and environmental rallies.

Civil-liberties advocates have cried foul, but police have justified the practice by saying that if, hypothetically, someone were to commit a crime during such an event, information about who was present could be helpful in the subsequent investigation.

Just a few months ago, City Manager Lorne Kramer -- the city's former police chief -- began applying the same concept to people who come to visit city officials. Under a security measure implemented in March, all visitors to City Hall and the City Administration Building have been required to show photo identification and write down their names on a sign-in sheet.

The measure might create merely an "illusion" of security, Kramer concedes. Because no metal detectors have been installed at either building, there's still nothing to prevent a visitor from carrying a gun or a bomb inside.

But by having a list of who's been to City Hall, Kramer said Tuesday, police would have leads to follow in an investigation, if a visitor did in fact commit a crime.

Need for vigilance

So as the Colorado Springs City Council moved to eliminate the identification requirement on Tuesday, Kramer objected strenuously. Even though Sept. 11, 2001, may be fading from memory, that doesn't mean the city should let its guard down, the city manager argued.

"We have lost our vigilance," Kramer complained. "We need to be vigilant."

But following an impassioned debate over security vs. civil liberties, Kramer's arguments lost out.

Council member Richard Skorman initially defended the security policy, saying he's received death threats while on the Council.

"We have people who come into this building who are very angry at us," Skorman argued. Asking people to identify themselves, he said, "is not a huge imposition."

But others said the ID policy might send a message of distrust to city residents.

"It is an implication that we don't necessarily feel comfortable with our citizens," argued Councilman Larry Small.

"I don't see any reason to be paranoid," Councilman Tom Gallagher concurred. "I'm not afraid of the citizens of this community."

Eroding liberties

Councilman Randy Purvis made an impassioned plea to overturn the policy, saying that by requiring identification, the city might deter some citizens from exercising their First Amendment right to address government officials.

"I don't like the implication that one has to sign in to petition the government," said Purvis, calling the security policy a "predicate for an erosion of our civil liberties."

The Council ultimately voted unanimously to kill the identification requirement, with immediate effect.

Though no one at the meeting made the connection between the city keeping lists of who attends Council meetings, and the police keeping lists of who attends political demonstrations, Purvis later said the same free-speech concerns apply in both situations.

Asked about the police's habit of keeping track of activists, he said, "I'm not too excited about that, either."

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