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OPEN RECORDS PREVENT A POLICE STATE

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Finally, the former director of the Department of Public Safety and one of his top aides confirmed that undercover DPS officers had followed me for two weeks and investigated my personal finances at the behest of Chief Ortega.

The state police went through my bank records, looked at tax returns and did a financial workup to see if I lived beyond my means. When I went to work, they went with me. When I went home, they followed. On trips out of town, they got on the airplane and sat next to me.

According to the ex-DPS director Ralph Milstead, Chief Ortega had explained that he wanted me tailed, but he didn't want the fingerprints of the Phoenix police on the investigation. That would be too obvious.

Nothing came of this repugnant police work, unless you count the television and newspaper accounts reporting that I'd been investigated. In a case like this where the cops decide to play rough, you never know when the publicity hits who accepts the fact that you were innocent and who believes you were too clever to get caught. @rule:

@body:Every excess and abuse you've read here happened with a strong public-records statute on the books. Clearly, the "sunshine laws" are not a deterrent to unethical cops. However, when journalists and citizens insist upon learning the truth, the paperwork trail provides answers to the most fundamental questions.

I do not trust writers who use terms like fascist, or who compare every civil liberties threat to Germany in the 30s. But there is a chilling scene in the book Schindler's List that describes what happens in a society that does not have access to its own paperwork.

In the autumn of 1942, members of the Jewish underground based in Istanbul sent out boxes of postcards to Zionists who lived in occupied Europe. The cards inquired about the recipient's welfare and asked for a reply. Only a single response made its way back to Turkey. The authorities controlled all of the records.

The files and reports kept by law enforcement buttress a free society. The paperwork belongs to all of us every bit as much as it belongs to the prosecutor with a subpoena and the officer with a badge.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey