Police seize DJs' laptops - Page 2

New police chief apparently condones policy that critics call illegal and punitive
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A person at the party pointed out that one of the laptops belonged to a friend of his, and asked if he could get the property receipt for the laptop. Miller said Bertrand turned to the inquiring person and said, "You will never see this laptop again."

She continued: "He then looked at me and said, 'I'm going to make sure your paperwork gets so tied up that maybe you won't see this laptop until December, January, February, who knows when.' I felt so violated."

Miller has been working as a DJ in the Bay Area, under the name DJ Justincredible, for more than 10 years. She says she's never had any of her equipment confiscated by the police before. But at that party, three DJs had their laptops confiscated, even though none were charged with a crime.

Shortly after the Halloween incident, Miller and the two other DJs who were at the party contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group specializing in technology and privacy issues. Jennifer Granick, a civil liberties lawyer with EFF, said most people haven't heard about this because few of these DJs, if any, ever get convicted of a crime.

"DJs and the police department know that sound equipment and laptops are being unlawfully seized. But the public and the courts haven't heard much about it because every time a DJ asks for a hearing, the cops just give them their property back rather than show up and defend the practice in open court before a judge," she said.

Sean Evans has been working as a DJ in San Francisco, under the name DJ 7, for more than 10 years. He said that over the summer he had his laptop seized by police during an after-hours party in SoMa. He was given no property receipt, and his case was dismissed. But it took him three months to get his computer back.

"To lose our sole means of income, it's a huge setback. It puts us out of work. In this recession, we're struggling, and we need our laptops to get by," he said. Evans grew up in the Bay Area and he said has never had anything like this happen to him before.

Granick argued it is illegal for police to seize property without issuing citations or arrests. She also said there are serious privacy issues at stake. "If we were to find out that the police were doing something else with the laptops, like searching through them or copying the data, we would definitely go to court," she said.

SFPD Sgt. Wilfred Williams said he could not say what was currently being done with the laptops. In general, he said, private events that emit "extraordinary amounts of sound" need permits. And if they don't have the proper permits, he said, property can be seized as evidence, "be it the speakers, be it the laptops, be it a mixer."

Both Tomioka and Williams say the seizures aren't a new policy. "If you look back in time, laptops haven't been used for music," Williams said. "There used to be old types of equipment that was taken in the past. But now laptops are being used. So yes, today, laptops [are] being seized."

Entertainment advocates have called on Mayor Gavin Newsom and Gascón to come forward with an explicit policy concerning these raids and seizures. The Mayor's Office did not respond to Guardian inquiries. Critics of the policy say it's having a chilling effect on nightlife in San Francisco.