Officer videotaped bikers' fund-raiser Police say monitoring was for crowd count

October 01, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

From the hill above the Anne Arundel County fairgounds, any one of the 10,000 motorcycle enthusiasts at Saturday's Toy Run fund-raiser could watch bands, people and each others' motorcycles. Unbeknown to most of the bikers, on the same hill, someone was watching them.

From a darkened Anne Arundel County unmarked police car, authorities acknowledge, one officer manned a video camera, taping the festivities and everyone who entered the gates. Police say they wanted to count the crowd and see if more officers were needed.

"It was for security purposes, not for surveillance," said police spokesman Jeff Kelly. "No faces were caught on tape and it was used to get a better idea of how large the crowd was."

That reasoning isn't sitting too well with some of the bikers who spotted the camera, including Jerry Nolan, a motorcyclist who is also a computer software consultant for the Pentagon and the White House.

"This was a worthwhile event for a public charity and we're being treated like this," Nolan said.

Fees from the fund-raiser benefit the Salvation Army and other Maryland charities. The money will be used to purchase of toys that are distributed by the Salvation Army during the holidays.

"I don't like this at all, monitoring us clandestinely," Nolan said. "Apparently the president trusts me, but the Anne Arundel County Police Department does not."

Legally, though, officers have the right to videotape public places where people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, said Dwight Sullivan, staff counsel for the ACLU in Maryland.

"It's a policy issue with the Police Department, not a constitutional one," Sullivan said.

"If the police are counting the crowd," Sullivan added, "it would certainly be reassuring to the people if they would destroy the tape after they are done counting."

Police said they still have the tape. "We are going to use it to analyze our response to make sure we had the appropriate personnel there for the event and to see if any changes need to be made for next year," said Kelly, the spokesman.

Taping crowds strikes many civil libertarians as a selective activity to target certain "undesirable" groups such as political demonstrators, student protesters and biker gangs. The problem with taping, said Sullivan, is that it can dissuade people from engaging in public activity.

The police said they do not videotape the Renaissance Festival or the Anne Arundel County Fair, even though the fair brings in the same number of visitors per day as the biker charity event Saturday.

Toy Run, created in 1981, has previously been held in Fort Smallwood Park and in Baltimore. But accidents in 1992 and 1986, and a shooting that year, have plagued the event's reputation.

"I don't see why they can't just leave us alone," said biker Giff Nickol of Glen Burnie. "We are good people doing something good and trying to get rid of the bad-biker image. We're lawyers, judges and professional engineers. They're treating us like a bunch of yahoos."

Police said no problems were reported this year or last year.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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