Colorado Springs police say they don't keep intelligence files on political groups and activists just for the sake of it -- but to make sure they aren't running afoul of any federal laws, they have asked for an outside audit.
Information obtained by the Independent through an Open Records Act request shows that the police department recently asked the Rocky Mountain Information Network, a federal agency based in Phoenix, to carry out the audit, and that the agency has agreed to do so.
The purpose is to ensure that intelligence files maintained by Springs detectives comply with federal regulations, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the Denver Police Department last year for spying on political activists.
"As you may be aware, other Colorado Front Range agencies' intelligence systems have recently come under scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union," wrote Cmdr. Kurt Pillard, head of intelligence for the Colorado Springs Police Department, in the May 22 request to the Rocky Mountain Information Network. "As a result, we would like an independent evaluation of our intelligence files in order to confirm our compliance."
The ACLU sued the Denver Police Department last year for gathering and maintaining intelligence files on at least 3,000 groups and individuals engaged in political activism, many of whom had done nothing more than exercise their freedom of speech. The practice created a "chilling effect" on the First Amendment, the ACLU argued.
As originally reported by the Independent last November, Denver's so-called "spy files" included information on numerous Springs groups and activists, much of which was furnished by the Colorado Springs police over a period of at least 18 years, from 1984 to 2002. Springs police also forwarded information about local political activism to an FBI counter-terrorism outfit, and local detectives participated regularly in a regional task force that kept tabs on activists.
Denver police have since settled the lawsuit with the ACLU and have agreed to change their intelligence-gathering practices. Prior to the settlement, the Denver department also requested a similar audit of its files by the Rocky Mountain Information Network.
The CSPD, meanwhile, has steadfastly maintained that it doesn't keep files on people based solely on political activism. "I'm not really concerned that we're not in compliance," Cmdr. Pillard told the Independent, claiming the audit was merely in response to "allegations levied by others."
The Rocky Mountain Information Network, a unit of the U.S. Justice Department, analyzes intelligence on behalf of local law-enforcement agencies throughout the region. The agency has agreed to Pillard's audit request and will submit a written report of its findings early next month.
According to Pillard, Rocky Mountain Information Network's assistant director, Jeff Pierce, conducted research in the Springs for two and a half days in June and will conclude when he returns on Aug. 21.
Cmdr. Pillard said the audit's findings would be shared up the CSPD's chain of command and with City Council.
-- Terje Langeland and John Dicker