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Security threat prompts major protocol changes at Annapolis City Hall – Baltimore Sun

by DrewLUD
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After several difficult confrontations with a man who makes frequent visits to Annapolis City Hall, where he has recorded heated encounters with city employees and posted them on YouTube, Annapolis officials are overhauling security protocols.

From installing a metal detector to ending Mayor Gavin Buckley’s “open door” policy, visiting City Hall will be a different experience. The new security measures went into effect July 22.

“It’s a shame that one person is costing us so many city resources,” Buckley said.

On July 21, the city announced the security changes were prompted by a safety audit conducted in 2018 and 2019 and attributed the delay in implementing those safety measures to the pandemic.

However, Buckley confirmed the new protocols were also in response to several incidents involving Terence Albert Tracy, also known as Terence Albert Falter, an Annapolis resident who regularly livestreams interactions with public officials, from arguments about masks to attempts to file grievances against police officers, and posts edited versions to his YouTube channel, Annapolis Audit.

With 21,500 subscribers and some videos garnering more than 100,000 views, Tracy is a notable example of online activists who identify as “First Amendment auditors” and attempt to earn a living by posting confrontational encounters with public employees.

The city’s security news release came days after Tracy posted a series of Annapolis City Hall videos he recorded while spending more than an hour in the building July 15. After filming several employees — including one through an office window, and another who he accuses of “hiding from him” in a stairwell — Tracy repeatedly knocked on the mayor’s office door. While on camera, Tracy called the police multiple times to request a welfare check on Buckley because no one was answering his knocks.

Tracy published a nearly 40-minute video that shows him walking around City Hall and sitting outside the mayor’s office until after the building had closed for the day. He occasionally engaged in profanity-laced interactions with two city employees, who had asked him to leave because the building had closed. Eventually, an officer arrives, finds Tracy in the common area, checks on another office in the building, and walks with Tracy as he exits the building.

Tracy has had encounters at the state Central Services Building and the Department of Motor Vehicles in late 2021 and early 2022. He is awaiting trial dates for three misdemeanor cases in which he is charged with disorderly conduct and various other offenses stemming from police accounts of his behavior. He has not been charged in connection with his conduct at City Hall.

Leaders of the Annapolis Police Department and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents technical and clerical workers in the city, say that city officials let the situation with Tracy escalate for far too long.

“He is literally attacking employees,” said Jamekica Mackall, president of AFSME local 3163. “I don’t know why he hasn’t been arrested.”

Mackall first became aware of Tracy when he filmed a confrontation at an Annapolis post office. Immediately, the police dispatchers started fielding calls from people who saw Tracy’s videos and called in to “help” Tracy, a pattern that has continued each time he goes live. “People call here from all over the world,” Mackall said. “Especially Texas. He has a lot of followers in Texas.”

Tracy has shown up multiple times at police headquarters over the past seven months, initially to complain about how he was treated by officers who were attempting to break up a bar fight at City Dock. Mackall accused Tracy of “trying to get my colleagues in trouble,” and say the wrong things on camera.

Mackall subsequently asked her union members not to interact with Tracy. When he shows up at police headquarters with his camera, union members contact a supervisor, who will then come to the lobby to deal with him.

Tracy has since turned his attention more to City Hall, Anne Arundel County facilities and even traveled as far away as Rockville to film his videos.

Mike Wilson, a spokesperson for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, which represents the police department, said the Annapolis officers support the city’s decision to implement security changes.

“We feel like this was the right thing to do and it should have been done sooner,” Wilson said. The union is also concerned about Tracy’s followers tying up phone lines and his harassment of city workers.

“This individual has created a situation that no one should have to deal with,” Wilson said.

Outgoing Annapolis City Manager David Jarrell said those who believe the city waited too long upgrade security “probably have a valid point.”

Jarrell explained that the safety audit was a response to the 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette, which killed five people, as well as a credible bomb threat at City Hall. Key recommendations, including improving locks and installing bulletproof glass at service counters, were implemented right away, Jarrell said. But the pandemic slowed progress.

“Now is the time to pick it back up,” Jarrell said.

The city manager has yet to watch any Annapolis Audit videos. Jarrell declined to share specific concerns he’s heard from employees about the YouTuber, citing those as personnel issues, but acknowledged that Tracy’s July 15 visit to City Hall was his “most contentious.”

Signs posted outside the offices for the mayor and incoming City Manager Michael Mallinoff say an appointment is necessary and list a number to call. A similar sign is posted outside the Office of Law. Last week, contractors installed new lock systems in the 250-year-old building. Three police officers attended Monday night’s City Council meeting, including one who manned a metal detector and checked bags for weapons.

Buckley called the upgrades “hardening,” using the national security parlance for reducing an organization’s vulnerability to attack. The mayor expressed regret that Tracy has prompted him to end an open-door policy, but said the YouTuber has proven to be unreasonable.

“I will sit down and talk to anyone who is reasonable,” Buckley said.

Financial windows at the city will remain open each day, and no appointments will be required for residents coming in to pay bills.

Contacted by phone, Tracy said his actions are “legal and lawful” and protected “First Amendment activities.” Court records list his address as Arnold, however, Tracy said he now resides in Annapolis, living in Ward 6. His visits to City Hall stem from attempting to file a grievance against a city worker who he believes treated him with disrespect, but in order to file that grievance, he needs the worker’s name and job title. Tracy says he has returned to City Hall seven times to file a public information act request and to get that information.

The goal of Annapolis Audit is “to bridge a gap” between the public and public officials, Tracy said. “I mean well, and I am fighting for everybody.”

Self-described “First Amendment auditors” like Tracy are a new trend in the world of online misinformation and extremism, said Ciarán O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an international think tank that seeks to find solutions to online hate, extremism and disinformation. Similar to Second Amendment auditors, who seek to bring weapons into public places, members of the First Amendment audit community visit places like libraries, police precincts and city halls and livestream their encounters.

“All the capital is in catching public employees who may be, in the eyes of the live streamer, committing some form of violation or some form of a fraud against the people,” O’Connor said. It’s a trend that ballooned during the pandemic, when people opposed to COVID restrictions filmed authorities asking them to wear masks, for example. “It’s quite confrontational,” he said. “It’s all about challenging the laws of the land.”

Law enforcement professionals are still grappling with how to respond. A June article in Police magazine looked at developing First Amendment auditor case law, and noted that when merely filming police officers at work, courts have ruled in favor of several self-identified auditors.

O’Connor believes, however, that many auditors are influenced by higher profile activists who have faced criminal charges and been banned by YouTube, including Charlottesville white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the Jan. 6 rioter known as Baked Alaska. Tracy hasn’t reached that status yet, but O’Connor cautioned that Annapolis Audit’s followers and viewers are “not small numbers.” Lately he’s been gaining several hundred new followers each week. He appears to be trying to build his audience, build his brand and make a living off of YouTube, O’Connor said.

“There is a history of people creating politically extreme content on YouTube, and this content being consumed by tens of thousands of people,” O’Connor said. The posters interact with followers in the chats, and sometimes take direction from them. The viewers, in turn, may also be, “motivated to act offline by the content that they consume online, particularly if it has the kind of political bent as this kind of First Amendment auditor.”

Worst case scenarios: These followers are inspired to commit acts of violence or send death threats, O’Connor said.

One of Tracy’s July 15 videos ends with a “disclaimer” saying the video “should be in no way taken as a call to arms.” Anyone who is “choosing to do so is of their own free will,” the closing text says.

O’Connor’s advice is for communities dealing with unsafe First Amendment auditors to contact online platforms and seek to have the content removed — although he notes that’s especially difficult with “long-form content” like Annapolis Audit— and to contact the local authorities when threats are apparent.

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Buckley declined to comment about what legal avenues Annapolis might be pursuing against Tracy. Jarrell said the city has no plans to engage with YouTube, because he feels that would “play into his agenda.” What the city has done is offer all employees additional “escalation training” to help deal with Tracy and other potentially difficult customers.

“That’s what he is,” Jarrell said. “A difficult customer.”

For now, city police officers will remain stationed at City Hall whenever it is open. “It’s a shame we have to take an officer off the street,” Buckley said.

The officers guarding City Hall will voluntarily work overtime, Wilson said.

Annapolis Police Capt. Justin Klinedinst said the department is still working out the logistics of having officers in the building.

“We don’t know how long that’s going to continue,” Klinedinst said.

Capital Gazette reporter Dan Belson also contributed reporting to this story.



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Source: Baltimore Sun