In San Francisco, any gathering after 2 a.m. requires a permit if there is “live entertainment,” a category that is apparently broad enough to include spinning records. Now cops charged with breaking up these events have taken it upon themselves to expropriate laptops from renegade disc jockeys.
According to accounts from local DJs, one officer makes it a habit to take every laptop he can find when raiding parties, even computers not visibly being used to play music. Jennifer Granick, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says this practice undermines the “evidence in a crime” excuse for seizing the computers, many of which belong to people not charged with any crimes.
One of the DJs, Justin Miller, tells a tragicomic tale of an aggressive plainclothes policeman who barged into a private Halloween party while she was in full clown regalia and asked her if she had a laptop. She wasn’t using it to play music, she says, but that didn’t stop him from grabbing the computer out of her hands when she took it from its bag in response to his request.
Miller says she followed the cop out to his car as he put her property in his trunk, along with other laptops he’d nabbed that night. Miller recalls the annoyed officer telling her he’d do all he could to make sure that it took her months to get back the machine, which is her primary source of livelihood.
By early December, with the help of the EFF, Miller and another person whose laptop was taken that night recovered their computers. Police told the San Francisco Bay Guardian that while the laptop seizures are not officially a new policy, the police chief does condone them. When Granick tried to make a case before a local judge that the practice is inherently illegal, the judge made the point moot by ordering the laptops returned and acknowledging the two DJs would not be charged with a crime—which made sense, as they hadn’t committed one before being robbed by the police in the first place.