The council approved a measure that requires the Human Relations Commission to review the license plate program on a quarterly basis. Medina said the commission was already overloaded and suggested creating an independent oversight body to conduct the audits and act as a liaison between residents and police.
He said an independent group could better determine whether police are targeting certain neighborhoods with cameras, assess whether the cameras have been effective in reducing crime and hold city officials accountable. “How do we know that the ALPR is not used in a specific community, as a hyper-police force of specific communities and spaces?” He asked.
Pedro Rios, director of the US / Mexico border program for the American Friends Service Committee, wondered how the police define “personal data.” He said a California law prohibits law enforcement to share personal information with immigration agencies like ICE. But when Rios sent a letter to the police objecting to the sharing of this data, the police said the ALPR data was not “personally identifiable”.
“They basically absolved themselves,” says Rios.
“The Chula Vista Police Department always welcomes any community engagement, whether critical or supportive, and these are not mutually exclusive,” Capt. Eric Thunberg, the department’s public information officer, told WIRED. “We believe we are doing a good job, but we are always striving to be better and to provide fair, courteous and compassionate service to our community.
In an emailed statement, the city director’s office said the council’s decision was unanimous and included new safeguards, including regular audits and a review of policies. “These efforts are aimed at balancing community concerns about privacy and the need for this important public safety tool,” the email read.
The city has also requested an independent audit from the California Department of Justice and will stop sharing data with any federal agency or police departments outside of California.
The outcry over the ALPR system, amid the nationwide discussion over policing and immigration, has prompted some residents to consider the city’s suite of surveillance tools, a notable change after years of quiet acceptance.
At the council meeting, residents also expressed concerns about the city’s drone program. Several noted that drones are often used for non-emergency situations, such as minor traffic jams or homeless people. sleep on a bench or sidewalk. The most expensive drones in town (two new DJI Matrice 210 V2 drones) costs $ 35,000 each and require officers to be trained to pilot them. Police say they have used drones to respond to 1,300 service calls to date this year. Similar to the ALPR, they have no local oversight body. Police are making the location of drone flights public, but, like license plate readers, Medina and others raise concerns about fairness.
Kennedy said drones can be dispatched before officers to determine if a police response is even needed, noting that in nearly 300 cases, police ultimately chose not to send an officer.
Almost 1,600 state and local Public security agencies had acquired drones in March 2020, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone. Chula Vista is the first city in the country having received special FAA approval to use police drones in 100% of the city. Other cities may seek to follow.
In emails obtained by ForbesWilliam Reber, a former Chula Vista police officer responsible for Skydio’s public integration, told the city’s former police chief that one of the goals of approving the specialized drones of the city is “to get an approved format that other agencies can replicate.”
The city’s drone and ALPR systems continue, with some hints that they may appear in other cities as well. If the city has promised to implement its monitoring tools more equitably, its a little relief for residents who believe that resources would be better directed elsewhere.
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