How Do Phoenix Police Monitor Social Media For Protests?

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 6:41pm
Updated: Monday, March 22, 2021 - 12:41pm

The crowd of demonstrators marches down 6th Avenue in Phoenix.
Scott Bourque/KJZZ
The crowd of demonstrators marches down Sixth Avenue in Phoenix during a demonstration against police violence May 31, 2020.

As authorities in Arizona and across the country prepare for possible armed protests at state Capitols this weekend, law enforcement agencies are heavily monitoring social media.

During Phoenix’s public safety subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, Councilmember Carlos Garcia pushed for information about surveillance. Garcia has been critical about the way police handled Black Lives Matter protests last summer and he asked Police Cmdr. Gabe Lopez what groups the department monitors.  

“We do not monitor any specific group, we search for certain words, as far as — say there’s an event in Phoenix or a protest, typically there’s some name attached to it and we will follow that communication that goes back and forth, again searching for intelligence so that we can prepare and keep people safe that are coming out,” he said.

Lopez said employees from homeland defense, criminal investigations and community engagement monitor social media.

“We do that for several reasons. First, to help us gauge what we will be facing, sometimes you get a little intelligence as far as how many people will come out to an event, also get some ideas as far as what their intent is.” he said.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, protests broke out around the country, including Phoenix. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

On May 30, protesters marched in downtown Phoenix against police brutality and the deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement. Lopez said the front doors of police headquarters were smashed and there was extensive graffiti on downtown buildings.

Phoenix police arrested more than a hundred people on felonies that night. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute and sent the cases back to police who forwarded them to the City Prosecutor’s Office to consider misdemeanor charges..

“We ended up receiving 105 cases that the county, that had been dismissed by the county attorney,” said Bob Smith, city prosecutor. “We reviewed those and ultimately decided we were not going to proceed with prosecution, there wasn’t a sufficient basis for prosecution.”

The following day, May 31, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an emergency declaration that included a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until the morning of June 8.

→ How Much Have Police, Election Protests Cost Phoenix Taxpayers?

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