Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict "Occupy" protesters from city parks and other public spaces. As was the case in last night's move in New York City, each of the police actions shares a number of characteristics. And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
The FBI has so far failed to respond to requests for an official response, and of the 14 local police agencies contacted in the past 24 hours, all have declined to respond to questions on this issue.
But in a recent interview with the BBC," Oakland Mayor Jean Quan mentioned she was on a conference call just before the recent wave of crackdowns began.
"I was recently on a conference call of 18 cities who had the same situation, where what had started as a political movement and a political encampment ended up being an encampment that was no longer in control of the people who started them."
At the time this story was updated, Mayor Quan's office had declined to discuss her comments.
UPDATE: Friday, 3:30 p.m. CT I spoke with someone today from the Justice Department about this story, which you can find here. The Huffington Post's Simon McCormack also just posted a story, including a brief statement from the FBI.
UPDATE: Thursday, 11:30 a.m. CT Two civil rights legal groups have filed a comprehensive Freedom of Information request for any and all communications between federal law enforcement agencies and local police that are related to the "Occupy" protests.
UPDATE: Thursday, 10:15 a.m. CT. I was finally able to get an official response from the Dept. of Homeland Security, although it didn' address many of my questions. I was also able to speak with several high-ranking DHS officials on background and deep background, which helped answer a few logistical questions (for instance, the role of the department's Federal Protective Service).
UPDATE: Wednesday, 12:45 p.m. CT. Speaking of Homeland Security, the department's Federal Protective Service (which is tasked with protecting federal buildings) has been spotted at a couple of 'Occupy' crackdowns, including one in Portland.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:15 a.m. CT. Here are a couple of relevant links that are related to this story.
Filmmaker Michael Moore was on "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" last night talking about this very issue. Click here to see the video.
The Associated Press has published a great piece on another set of conference calls about strategy, these organized by the Police Executive Research Forum.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 10:10 am CT. I'm working on at least one new story for today, but I wanted to try and clear up a couple of questions I've gotten since this original story posted yesterday.
I have a hunch that Mayor Quan might have been referring to a conference call between a number of U.S. mayors in her interview, not one with law enforcement officials. But that's just a hunch on my part, since her office has so far declined to offer any explanation of her comments to me.
My original source for the story (who still works at the Justice Dept.) stands behind the original story and we're working to flesh it out in more detail today. I also have some other aspects of the story I'm working on as well.
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