For years, the New York Police Department has sent video crews to protests, marches, and demonstrations held by the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, the Verge reports. The outlet obtained a bevy of documents chronicling more than 400 instances in which the department's video team was sent to protests—but police could or would not confirm that any of the operations ever got legal approval.
The internal documents, first snagged by attorney David Thompson through a Freedom of Information Law request, are job reports from the NYPD's Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU)—essentially, the department's AV guys. But when Thompson asked for docs showing the TARU requests were approved by the NYPD's deputy commissioner of legal matters—standard operating procedure—the cops came up empty.
"This process is intended to be a control to ensure there's an adult in the room, a legally trained adult in this case, who is able to understand whether or not the filming conforms to police guidelines or not," Thompson told the outlet.
Now some protesters and civil liberties advocates fear the approval process might be going undocumented—if it's happening at all. Although police officers are allowed to film any protest where they suspect criminal activity, the fear is that without enforced regulations, cops may single out individuals of interest for undue surveillance.
If nothing else, the presence of the cameras has already one impact—intimidating protesters.
"People are like, 'I don't know if I want to do this,'" Elsa Waithe, a comedian and activist, told the Verge. "Just the sight of them with their cameras is enough to scare people."
UPDATE 3/22/17: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article omitted mention of Occupy protests—part of the figure referenced—in the headline.