Officers in Miami and Miami Beach have photographed rappers and their entourages at Miami International Airport and staked out hotels, video shoots and nightclubs while consulting 6-inch-thick dossiers of rappers and associates with arrest records in New York state, The Miami Herald reported.
"We have to keep an eye on these rivalries," said Assistant Miami Beach Police Chief Charles Press. "The last thing we need in this city is violence."
Some experts believe the sweeping surveillance of a genre of musicians is unprecedented.
"There's been no shortage of rock stars and other musicians" scrutinized by police, said Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. "But there has never been anything like this."
Miami Beach and Miami police did not immediately respond to calls Wednesday for additional comment.
Police began gathering intelligence on rap artists after the Memorial Day 2001 weekend, when 250,000 hip-hop fans flocked to South Beach for four days of parties hosted by their favorite rappers. More than 210 people were arrested, double usual number, most for disorderly conduct and intoxication.
Although no major rap artists were arrested, police decided to learn the nuances of hip-hop culture, Press said.
"Nobody on the beach had a handle on who the players were," Press said. "We didn't know anything. We didn't know who were the big record labels, who were the kingpins. We didn't know why there were rivalries with Ja Rule and Eminem."
Officers were sent to New York for a three-day training session in May, along with police from Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities. That's where they received the dossiers, said Miami police Sgt. Rafael Tapanes.
"This kind of conduct shows insensitivity to constitutional limitations," said Nova Southeastern University law professor and constitutional law expert Bruce Rogow. He represented 2 Live Crew when the rap group was prosecuted for obscenity in the early '90s. "It also implicates racial stereotyping."
Only one of 97 officers in supervisory positions at the Miami Beach police department is black. Miami has 226 ranking officers and 26 are black.
"The cities should take taxpayer dollars and put them toward something else," said Luther Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew rapper.