Policing First Amendment events

One of the most valuable freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution is the right of persons and groups to peaceably assemble. 

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a resource called The Role of Law Enforcement at First Amendment Events. “As part of their duty to uphold the United States Constitution, law enforcement officers have the responsibility to protect persons engaged in their right to peaceably assemble,” the document says.

The DOJ advises that officers are on site to “protect life and property” and to “ensure that all privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections are upheld.” The DOJ guidance goes on to say that officers shall not:

• Engage in unauthorized enforcement activities, including unauthorized information collection
• Document information on persons solely on the basis of: 
   • Ethnicity, national origin, or race
   • Religious, political, or social beliefs or associations
   • Sexual habits or orientation
   • Support for unpopular causes
• Conduct investigative activity without direct supervisory authorization
• Allow personal beliefs and opinions to interfere with their duties as a law enforcement officer
• Express personal, political, or religious views during the assembly, while on duty
• Infringe on any person’s right to peaceably assemble and associate with others

It bears repeating that LEOs are present at First Amendment events such as “Occupy” rallies in order to protect life and property, ensure fair and impartial enforcement of laws, statutes, and ordinances, and enable those present to collectively express, pursue, promote, and defend their common interests. 

Naturally, if an assembly turns violent, that violence must immediately stopped.  Even in the face of insults and shouted profanity, the LEO is present as a protector of the right to speak, not as the protector of what is being said.  

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, providing police training content on a wide range of topics and trends affecting the law enforcement community. Doug is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column, and has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips. Doug hosts the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, and is the host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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