As MPD Crafts Social Media Surveillance Policy, Activists Want Assurances

Nov 8, 2019

Monitoring team members, John Henegan (left) and Jim Letten (right), explain some of the legal language of the Kendrick Consent Decree.
Credit Katie Riordan

Activists are demanding more community oversight of a team monitoring the Memphis Police Department as it crafts new policies on electronic surveillance.

The court-appointed monitors held a second public forum Thursday night. Many questions surrounded the ongoing compliance issues with the Kendrick Consent Decree, a 40-year-old legal agreement that prevents police from spying on non-criminal political activists. 

Police were found in violation last year after officers used social media to gather intelligence.

The MPD recently asked a federal judge to modify the decree, arguing it doesn’t account for modern-day technology.

At the forum, monitoring team member Will Perry was asked if the decree prevents police from accepting crime-related information from a citizen who finds it on social media.  

“That’s an interesting problem,” says Perry, who is a lawyer with the Butler Snow law firm. “Because while we don’t want the police to use third parties as proxies to do things that they’re not supposed to do, we do want police to be able to act on certain kinds of information.” 

Activists still want answers to what happened after police shared surveillance information with private local companies such as Autozone and FedEx as part of so-called “joint intelligence briefings.” 

“We don’t know what is the status of information that came out during the trial that should not have been communicated to third parties. What our job is to do is to bring the city back into compliance so they’re not sending more information out,” Perry says. 

Citizens, like Reverend Vahisha Hasan, are demanding that a community member is added to the six-member monitoring committee. 

“I just don’t think that this is a credible monitoring team without the community’s direct involvement,” she says. “Every time a table is set, some community members should be eating from it.”  

A judge is now considering that request. The monitoring committee will present its next quarterly report in court November 21.