Officials from the Harrisburg Police Department presented their case to City Council last week for a $65,000 budget allocation to purchase riot gear. Police Chief Thomas Carter and Captains Deric Moody and Gabriel Olivera told the council that their current gear is over 20 years old and that they need the suits and gear because of recent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations between white nationalists and counter-protesters. Throughout the meeting, the officials were redefining riot gear by replacing the term with “protective gear” that “de-escalates situations.” However, a minor statement about how the Harrisburg Police Department uses “fusion centers” to gather and share intelligence to prepare for demonstrations managed to slip through the discussion.
It appears that local and state police may have been monitoring social platforms for information about the protests. Captain Deric Moody mentioned that Harrisburg police have been sharing information with the state’s fusion center, Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center, to prepare for these demonstrations. Captain Moody told council:
Like the chief says, there’s a level of preparedness where we monitor, we talk. Sometimes there’s open source talking. A lot of times what the groups are doing now, is they will not talk openly. So what chatter we get, or what information we get, there’s always a send out. We send out to our intelligence center, to the fusion center, for the state is like what are our threat assessments here. If the threat assessment is this is an identified group with a history or potential for violence, that’s going to change the dynamics of it. Now if it’s just mothers and kids marching against whatever, school closing early, that’s going to be looked at as more of potential “ok, these are moms and kids attending this, scale it down.”
Fusion centers were created by state and local law enforcement agencies after the September 11th terrorist attacks as a way to gather local intelligence and data. The Brookings Institute defines “fusion centers” as “state and local run organizations dedicated to information sharing and analysis,” and they share information about threats. As of 2014, there are 78 fusion centers throughout the United States, and the Department of Homeland Security states that there are three centers in Pennsylvania. They are located in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the state police operated Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center.
The American Civil Liberties Union has a more critical opinion on what a “fusion center” is. The ACLU says “fusion centers were designed to organize localized domestic intelligence gathering into an integrated system that can distribute data both horizontally across a network of fusion centers and vertically, down to local law enforcement and up to the federal intelligence community. ” These centers can employ federal, state and local law enforcement officials and homeland security agents.
The ACLU believes there are five “overreaching problems with these domestic intelligence operations Americans’ privacy and civil liberties at risk:”
- Ambiguous Lines of Authority. In a multi-jurisdictional environment it is unclear what rules apply, and which agency is ultimately responsible for the activities of the fusion center participants.
- Private Sector Participation. Some fusion centers incorporate private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, potentially undermining privacy laws designed to protect the privacy of innocent Americans, and increasing the risk of a data breach.
- Military Participation.Some fusion centers include military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.
- Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and data manipulation processes that threaten privacy.
- Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are characterized by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt.
Harrisburg Police officials went on the record stating that they were using fusion centers to share and gather intelligence to prepare for demonstrations and counter-demonstrations between white nationalists and antifascist demonstrators. They did this at a public meeting discussing their request for updated riot gear in the wake of these protests. In light of recent national events with demonstrations and counter-demonstrations between white nationalists and counter protesters and antifascist demonstrators, questions about how the will police respond to these counter-protesters.