The City of Colorado Springs had a long history of conducting “sweeps” of public parks and other public areas where the City’s homeless commonly slept, ostensibly for cleaning up the parks and discarding trash. In response to public reports that homeless persons’ private property was commonly seized and destroyed during these “sweeps,” the ACLU interviewed dozens of homeless individuals affected by the City’s policy.
The ACLU’s investigation uncovered that the City routinely forced homeless individuals, many of whom were veterans, from their campsites under threat of arrest and subsequently destroyed all of their personal possessions. The ACLU reported that during these “sweeps,” City police officers participated or cooperated in the destruction of prescription medications, military discharge papers, photo identifications, birth certificates, debit cards, winter clothing, sleeping bags, tents, bicycles, irreplaceable personal items such as family bibles and photos of children, and other valuable personal property.
On March 5, 2009, the ACLU issued a report to the City police chief and mayor detailing the findings of the investigation. Subsequent to the ACLU’s report and criticism from local community organizations, the City reviewed and revised its practices.
In June 2009, the ACLU learned that the police department had completed an internal investigation and determined that no misconduct on the part of its officers could be substantiated. The ACLU questioned the adequacy of the investigation, and requested a copy of the internal affairs file under Colorado’s open records laws.
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