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City police draft policy on photographing protests

By The Associated Press


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WORCESTER, Mass. — City police, criticized for photographing a post-Sept. 11 peace vigil, have agreed not to videotape or photograph demonstrations unless there is a legitimate reason.

The action comes in the wake of complaints from civil libertarians, who charge the recent practice by police has infringed on First Amendment rights and discouraged protesters from assembling.

Police Chief James M. Gallagher submitted the four-page policy last week to City Manager Thomas R. Hoover for review.

The policy allows taping or photographing protests in the case of a criminal investigation. Surveillance must be approved by the chief or a deputy.

If those officials are not available, authorization may come from a captain or a unit commander. Those officials must later submit a report justifying the action.

The policy also creates guidelines for covert surveillance, and establishes a record-keeping system.

According to police officials, the policy balances protesters' rights with the department's obligation to protect the public.

Ronal C. Madnick of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts called the policy "positive," but said it doesn't address all concerns.

"A policy is better than nothing, and there are some good things in the proposal," Madnick told the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester. "But there's still a chilling effect. The bottom line is that police should not be photographing, unless it involves a criminal activity."


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