Repression / Police

Donner, Frank. Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. 503 pages.

As a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union Project on Political Surveillance and someone who had been identified as a Communist in front of Congressional committees during the 1950s, it's not surprising that Connecticut-based attorney Frank Donner (1911-1993) emerged as the foremost scholar of U.S. domestic political surveillance. He wrote two major books on the subject: "The Age of Surveillance" (1981) on political intelligence by federal agencies, and "Protectors of Privilege" (1990), which looks at surveillance by police departments in major U.S. cities.

"Protectors of Privilege" is a book that could not have been written had it not been for a broad coalition of citizen groups in major U.S. cities that addressed the issue of police intelligence during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The ACLU and American Friends Service Committee helped with the organizing, and by the mid-1980s many major cities had enacted laws that forced their respective police departments to reveal and/or destroy their political intelligence files, and curtail their activities. This was the case in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia, each of which gets its own chapter in this book. Other chapters cover lesser cities and provide historical background dating from the turn of the century.


National Action/Research on the Military-Industrial Complex. Police on the Homefront: A Collection of Essays Compiled by NARMIC. Philadelphia: American Friends Service Committee, 1971. 133 pages.

When Watts burned in 1965, the Pentagon began worrying that local police and state-controlled National Guards were ill-equipped to deal with urban insurgency. Once the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 was passed, a massive infusion of federal funds began pouring into local and state jurisdictions, mostly through a new Justice Department agency called the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). By 1973 the annual appropriation for LEAA programs approached $2 billion. In 1969 the police received 75 percent of the grants, the jails 8 percent, and the courts 6 percent. Most police departments spent the money on weapons, riot-control equipment, armored cars, helicopters, and computers.

This collection of essays on LEAA includes a list of colleges and universities that received LEAA money, abstracts of research grants awarded by LEAA for 1970, a description of some new weapons and computerized data-access systems, and a list of all the state planning agencies for LEAA.

Divisions within U.S. society were deep when this book was published in 1971, and many were concerned about the possibility of a police state. Then Watergate came along and Nixon resigned, relieving much of the pressure.


Rothmiller, Mike and Goldman, Ivan G. L.A. Secret Police: Inside the LAPD Elite Spy Network. New York: Pocket Books, 1992. 246 pages.

Many first became acquainted with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1992, with the videotape of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots. This was common fare for la-la land -- peaceful protesters, for example, learned about LAPD brutality in 1967. Ten years later the ACLU and other citizen groups began investigating the Public Disorder Intelligence Division. In 1983, years after the police commission had ordered PDID to destroy more than 50,000 espionage files, many of these files turned up again. The commission then ordered PDID to disband, whereupon it changed its name to the Anti-Terrorist Division. This was a slick move that used the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as an excuse.

By 1992, LAPD officer Mike Rothmiller was fed up. He blew the whistle by claiming that the Organized Crime Intelligence Division was the real culprit, while PDID had been more or less a media diversion all along. Since 1957 OCID has collected files on everyone, from movie stars to politicians, and even planted a mole in the mayor's office. Rothmiller was an OCID detective from 1978 to 1982, and enjoyed access to many of these files. In this book he reports numerous instances of unwarranted surveillance, ugly racism, and routine perjury by the LAPD. It's not a pretty picture, but it's much more accurate than those cop shows on TV.


Tackwood, Louis E. and the Citizens Research and Investigation Committee. The Glass House Tapes. New York: Avon Books, 1973. 284 pages.

In 1971, some New Left activists in Los Angeles were approached by Louis Tackwood, who wanted to confess about the work he had been doing for the Criminal Conspiracy Section of the LAPD. "Those are the mad dogs who set up Angela, the Panthers -- all the militants. They've got a room on the eighth floor of the Glass House with files and pictures of all radicals -- brothers, brown militants and white boys, too. It's a top secret place where they keep information on everyone. You even need a special pass to get in. They got files on people all over the country. CCS is a super-police agency."

This semi-thriller chronicles the efforts by the ad-hoc citizens committee to debrief Tackwood into a tape recorder over the next two years, confirm his story, and publicize it. They did an excellent job; this remains a classic glimpse into the pre-Watergate police-state atmosphere that was all too real for the New Left the morning after the sixties. From Red Squads to state agencies, and from the FBI's COINTELPRO to domestic surveillance by the CIA and military, it was as close to fascism as we've come since the McCarthy days. In 1978 I was working with another Citizens Commission on Police Repression on the issue of LAPD's intelligence division. I consider this book to be credible, even if Tackwood's prose is slightly overstated. -- D.Brandt


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