"Information about that incident became known to the Seattle police department by us seeing it on the television news," admitted Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.
When blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman visited Seattle a month after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing the terror which earned him a life sentence Seattle Police couldn't monitor him because of decades-old restrictions on gathering intelligence restrictions designed to protect privacy and free expression.
"Our desire is to protect the people of Seattle and without information our hands are tied," said Kerlikowske.
Seattle Police are demanding what commissioners just granted police in Los Angeles: more freedom to gather intelligence. Departments from Chicago to Portland, Ore. have been pushing to get restrictions off their backs, restrictions often imposed because of past police abuses.
Former Black Panther Michael Zinzun, now with the Coalition Against Police Abuse, sued the LAPD in 1981 and forced it to rein in its intelligence unit when he found they'd infiltrated his community group. The suit revealed police spying on not only the Panthers and Jane Fonda, but also then-Mayor Tom Bradley even the PTA.
"There are church groups, there are individuals, organizations who simply wanted to exercise their right to speak out," he said. "That's the danger and we're unleashing it once again."
Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks says the new police powers are needed in what he calls the new reality.
"We have suffered somewhat by being overly concerned in the last two decades about the civil libertarian's view," he said, "and we should not have unnecessary hurdles if our role is to protect our community."
Parks and his fellow chiefs across the country say rules used to fight the war on crime feel like dangerous handicaps in the new war on terror.
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