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Denver Approves Civil Liberties Resolution

March 18, 2002
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Denver Approves Civil Liberties Resolution

by Sarah Cooke, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) - The City Council passed a resolution Monday that discourages Denver police from investigating groups or individuals based on their country of origin or immigration status.

The nonbinding resolution, a response to the federal Patriot Act, also protects people who haven't committed a crime from police investigation.

Council members approved the resolution by a 7-4 vote after nearly two hours of debate in front of a standing-room-only audience that included political activists and community leaders. Many stood and applauded after the vote.

A few dozen audience members wore orange stickers that read "Criminal Extremist" in response to recent allegations by the American Civil Liberties Union involving Denver police.

Last week, ACLU officials accused police of keeping secret files on peaceful protest groups like Amnesty International. Police were reprimanded by Mayor Wellington Webb who said the police had interpreted city policy too broadly.

An investigation is under way.

Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie, who co-sponsored the resolution, said the measure urges police not to go too far in the wake of Sept. 11.

"In this city, it's not a crime to have dark skin," she said. "It's not a crime to be from a different country. It's not a crime to express unpopular views."

The Patriot Act, passed by Congress in October, gives the federal government more power to monitor Internet use and employ electronic surveillance, wiretaps and other methods in fighting terrorism.

A handful of other cities, including Portland, Ore., have questioned the scope of the law. Portland officials refused to help federal authorities interview people about the terrorist attacks.

Although Denver's resolution doesn't have the force of law, supporters on the council said Mayor Wellington Webb has indicated he likely will make it part of the police operations.

Councilman Ed Thomas said the new police powers are needed for public safety.

"If you think this is the last terrorist act in this country you are sadly mistaken," said Thomas, a former police officer. "I think it's inappropriate to not remember the people who died 9/11 and that's exactly what we are doing."

Thomas said the resolution will unnecessarily tie the hands of Denver police, though another council member later said Police Chief Gerry Whitman told her it wouldn't.

"(Whitman) felt the resolution does not prohibit the Denver Police Department from doing what they already have the tools to do in protecting our citizenry," Councilwoman Deborah Ortega said. She said spoke with Whitman on Monday.

Other council members called the resolution confusing and worried it would make Denver look bad, but Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds said the measure only reaffirmed civil rights.

"Especially in times of war, voices of caution and reason should not be stilled," she said.

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