A Story of PERF-idy

Posted on 29/11/2011 by

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Image via The Daily Bail.

Ever since this Democracy Now! interview, the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, a previously unregarded police strategy NGO, has been receiving some clearly undesired attention. In that interview, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler unwisely let slip that it was PERF which had been coordinating the conference calls which Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had (also unwisely) let slip had taken place.

Those conference calls, apparently two at present count (according this this tepid interview), were organised by PERF with the explicit intention of having the involved mayors and police chiefs talk about managing approaches to ‘dealing’ with Occupy Wall Street protests. These conference calls were made in the context of Mr Wexler having made the unretracted tweet that a PERF document – Managing Major Events (PDF) – was being used as ‘a guide to handling Occupy protests’.

Interestingly enough, in the aforementioned tepid interview, Mr Wexler claimed “[t]here was no agenda” for the calls; in other words, the calls weren’t structured. This should seem rather odd, as the PERF guide which he referenced in his tweet is all about structure. Indeed, the notion of an ‘unstructured’ or ‘agenda-less’ conference call is a very odd claim indeed. But, until such time as recordings of the conferences are released, one can only arch one’s eyebrows at the idea of an ‘unstructured’ or ‘agenda-less’ conference call in the modern ‘bring your work home on weekends’ business world.

Continuing on, the structural relationships of PERF also came to light around this time. Primary funding of PERF, by the organisation’s own admission[1], comes from the Department of Homeland Security and various corporate sponsors, including Motorola and Lockheed Martin [1]. Mr Wexler himself sits on the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Additionally, the Managing Major Events manual was funded by the Motorola Foundation, bringing to mind interesting questions of who, really, writes public policing policy.

[1] Link to the statement. I don’t like linking to this article, as the DHS funding information had previously appeared on PERF’s About Us page. However, the DHS mention has since been replaced with the more soothingly amorphous ‘government’ [link].

Past PERF sponsors have been revealed by WikiLeaks: PERF wrote a strategy paper (PDF) regarding ‘community policing’, and so forth, in the Jamaica Constabulary Force. This is a paper funded by the American Chamber of Commerce, or AMCHAM.

AMCHAM itself is the international arm of the US Chamber of Commerce (USCHAM) which itself is notorious for the anti-progressive plot revealed in the Anonymous/LulzSec hack of HBGary. The intent of the plot was to ‘discredit’ various ‘targets’, including the progressive policy organisation Think Progress, as well as the highly respected Glen Greenwald. HBGary, in turn, was also tapped by the Department of Justice to design an attack plot for Bank of America against WikiLeaks, which also included Glen Greenwald as a ‘target’.

In addition to the sponsorship of AMCHAM, the Jamaica policy paper was funded by the US Agency for International Development, or USAID. The paper received the full support of the US State Department, which provided a $500,000 grant to Jamaica explicitly for the purposes of implementing the PERF policy paper. Facilities were built in Jamaica, supported by the State Department grant; an AMCHAM tour of the facilities, funded by USAID, was guided by representatives of PERF. A 2008 USAID review (PDF, pg 5) of the project affirms that  “[a] study… commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Jamaica and written by PERF, helped guide the design of the activity in [Jamaica].” Mr Wexler himself was very cheery (PDF) over the Jamaica project, saying in his organisation’s newsletter that it was “Taking PERF Principles Abroad”.

Passing implications of this network of sponsorship are quite interesting. AMCHAM is directly involved with crafting police strategy, by their sponsoring of PERF. Because of this, it effectively means that AMCHAM is a police policy NGO. It is not any great leap of logic to assume that USCHAM are also involved with crafting domestic police strategy as well, since their international arm has done so.

To be clear: It is not confirmed that USCHAM has itself directly sponsored a PERF strategy paper for domestic use, but at the same time it is not an unfair assumption. The implications of an organisation like USCHAM crafting police strategy are not comforting. One on hand, they fund PERF, which is an organisation writing national – and international – strategy guides for police. On the other hand, USCHAM funded HBGary’s illegal and immoral ‘attack and discredit’ plots against public policy organisations, journalists like Mr Greenwald, and otherwise chill free speech.

Turning here to PERF itself, there are an interesting number of characters embedded within the organisation. People like William Bratton, the ‘reformer’ who reshaped the New York Police Department (NYPD) along the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. Succinctly put, the policy assumes that by having a zero-tolerance toward petty crime, major crime is reduced. This has been neatly disproven by the extremely serious, and unpunished, crimes which have been perpetrated on Wall Street. Mr Bratton is also the man whom UK Prime Minister David Cameron wished to bring on as the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police – a move wisely blocked by his Home Secretary – due the riots following the Met’s shooting of an unarmed man. Presently, the United Kingdom is facing the most repressive and top-heavy Government in its history, including the Cromwell epoch. Mr Bratton was being brought on to ‘improve’ the functioning of the police apparatus.

Other interesting characters have been already discussed by Ayesha Kazmi on her blog:

Most notable are Miami Police Chief John Timoney and Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. Anyone who has researched anything about shifting police tactics in the United States since 1999 would have come across these names without digging too deep. Both are responsible for coordinating notoriously heavy handed abusive policing in their respective cities; Dolan for the 2008 Republican National Convention, and Timoney for the 2003 FTAA protests that saw the genesis for the “Miami Model” of policing protests. The “Miami Model” has since become the model to emulate for subsequent protest policing, as stated by both the Miami Mayor and the Miami-Dade State Attorney.

Another notable name would be Thomas C Frazier who not only currently sits as the special advisor of the city of Oakland’s police department, but also sat on the Department of Justice’s “Less Lethals Working Group” that researches less lethal weapons such as different types of chemical agents, such as pepper spray and tear gas, projectiles, such as rubber bullets, bean bags, and pepper balls, and conducted energy devices (CEDs) such as tasers and LRADs. The 2009 DoJ review states that the use of less lethal weapons was expanding in several different law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and recommends that the DoJ “coordinate and ensure that its components develop appropriate and consistent policies to specifically address the use of less-lethal weapons, including conducted energy devices, by Department personnel and state and local law enforcement officers serving on Department task forces.”

So all and all, one must admit that PERF keeps very interesting company. This is, it seems, what Fox News labels progressive. I would suppose this comes as an endorsement of sorts. “PERF is okay because they’re not lunatics like us”, is the best translation which comes to mind.

It should go without saying that PERF is not a progressive organisation by any stretch of the imagination except Fox’s. A relationship with USCHAM, even if theoretically bureaucratically removed via AMCHAM, is highly questionable, given what is known about USCHAM’s illegal activities against individuals and organisations.

Close association with the US State Department is also not any sign of progressive ethics. Amongst other things, WikiLeaks shows us that the State Department was onboard with  ‘calibrat[ing] a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU’ – read: price manipulation of food prices in the European Union – in order to punish anti-Genetically Modified Foods countries in the Union. Not the paragon of sensitivity, the State Department.

This does not even return to the ethical questions surrounding members of PERF proper, nor of PERF’s sponsorship by Lockheed Martin (PDF). That is, almost certainly, only one out of a number of defence contractors providing financial support to PERF. Defence contractors are in the business of selling weapons and related hardware; it can only stand to reason that PERF, wishing to keep its sponsors happy, would design policy to favour its sponsors. The classic “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach to designing police strategy.

This level of symbiosis cannot, as far as I’m concerned, be over-exaggerated. Nor can the blasé and unquestioning support which the State Department showed toward PERF and their strategy paper for Jamaica. That $500,000 was over twice (PDF, pg 5) then-Executive Director Sherwin Wexler’s yearly income, after all.

The symbiosis between PERF and the Department of Homeland Security is also one which cannot be over-exaggerated. Unfortunately, it’s the symbiotic relationship about which the least is known at present. This will change. But be that as it may, we come here to the big question which has been circulating for a very long time:

Is the Department of Homeland Security directly managing the crackdown on Occupy movements nation-wide?

According to Rick Ellis, the answer is yes: He cites an anonymous source in the Department of Justice whom he has known, by his own admission, for many years. Despite rumours and snotty comments to the contrary, he has not retracted one bit of his story.

People on the ground say yes as well: There have been sightings of Homeland Security agents at multiple Occupy movements, including Boston (via Ayesha Kazmi, who was on the ground during the 17 November march). Indeed, there is the rather mysterious arrest performed by DHS Federal Protective Services agents at Occupy Portland; an arrest on which the FPS made the following statement:

FPS is working with the Portland Police Bureau to enforce the prohibition of overnight encampments at Schrunk Plaza, while protecting the safety and security of all involved,” said Chris Ortman, an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C.

Anonymous sources and on-the-ground observations are all well and good, but they are not the proverbial ‘smoking gun’: A memo, a policy paper, something to show an irrefutable link from the ground to Homeland Security. That smoking gun is what we lack at present.

What we do have, though, is very strong correlative evidence. Tim Dolan, for example, is an excellent case study. His handling of the 2008 Republican National Convention was brutal and shocking. That does not stop the Department of Homeland Security from not only lauding the 2008 RNC as a success in police action, but also bragging about having coordinated the entire affair. Mr Dolan, to reiterate, sits on the board of PERF. It would represent a monument to stupidity to suggest that his presence in PERF is ceremonial. It is a temple to stupidity to suggest that the handling of protesters at the 2008 RNC is utterly dissimilar to the handling of Occupy protesters.

This is a thumbnail sketch of PERF; there are serious questions about the revolving doors between PERF, other NGOs, and the Federal Government proper. Even if Homeland Security is shown, emphatically and without a shadow of a doubt, to have not lifted a single finger to assist crackdowns on Occupy, PERF still represents a textbook case of nepotism and the incestuous intermingling of private, unaccountable organisations with the powers of the Federal Government.

Further correlative information can be found in PERF itself, in the form of a Mr Gerard Murphy, who is “the Director of Homeland Security and Development…” at PERF. “In this capacity he manages a variety of law enforcement and homeland security projects, and oversees the development of new project ideas.” Other activities of PERF’s Homeland Security and Development ‘division’ include “The Terrorism White Paper Series”. On the page about the ‘division’ one finds a particularly interesting quote:

The COPS Office has supported this PERF initiative to produce practical advice for resolving immediate problems related to local law enforcement’s new counter terrorism role, as well as a framework to guide the profession for the next three to five years.

COPS, as an aside, stands for Community Organised Policing Strategy, and is an arm of the US Department of Justice. Their self-description makes PERF a logical candidate for an NGO embedded in the process of establishing, well, Department of Justice approved police strategy.

For me, there have been two very interesting sides to the emerging story around PERF. Generally speaking, I would actually rank these two facets fairly equally in importance. The first, and usually most obvious, is the information which continues to come to light regarding PERF’s activities, funding, sponsors, and members. This post, as I mentioned above, is just scratching the surface of an evidently corrupt and incestuous situation.

Related to those defending PERF, in one fashion or other, are those not condemning PERF, or at the very least the police actions which are being taken supposedly under the aegis of PERF’s Managing Major Events manual.  This, oddly enough, concerns PERF itself: Its reputation is one the line, considering its manual has been self-touted as the guide for ‘handling’ Occupy protests. But it also includes Human Rights Watch, whose Ms Diane Paul is a member of PERF (link, search for the name). What, exactly, the relationship between PERF and HRW is unclear. Curiously, however, HRW has only just come out with their position on police brutality – or, as they put it, ‘misconduct’ – against Occupy protesters. Their position, in essence: Police brutality is the action of ‘rogue’ police officers, in a country which has institutionalised and legalised indefinite detainment, torture, and extra-judicial executions.

The second facet is less obvious, but in my mind no less elucidating: It is the numbers of people who are rushing, and often tripping, to come to the aid of PERF. This ‘aid’ comes in many forms, ranging from outright endorsement to attempts at redirecting the scrutiny somewhere, anywhere, but PERF — “It’s not PERF! Anyone but PERF!” Dismissing the PERF story out of hand, without taking a cursory glance simply at the revolving door, is an alarming dereliction of journalistic duty. One must wonder why that duty is left derelict when so obvious a story is presented.

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Posted in: Analysis, WikiLeaks