Dayton police want access to private cameras; ‘Orwellian’ or helpful tools?

Opponents say current city report lacks information required by city ordinance; public hearing is Wednesday

Dayton police want to try out new technology that allows law enforcement under some circumstances to access live and recorded video from privately owned security cameras.

Community members appear to be divided over the idea, with supporters claiming that police could use some new high-tech tools, and critics warning of the dangers of giving authorities enhanced surveillance powers.

This week

The Dayton Police Department will host a public hearing about Fusus technology on Wednesday evening, during the weekly Dayton City Commission meeting at City Hall.

The police department in the last couple of weeks has held multiple public information sessions about the technology and its proposed use.

Under the voluntary program, camera owners decide how and when police get to access their cameras’ live feeds and recordings, says an impact report released by the Dayton Police Department.

Police access can be limited to emergencies, such as when camera owners activate a panic button. Or camera owners can require police to first get their permission to tap into their video security systems.

The Dayton Police Department also wants to create a voluntary camera registry that officials say will help officers easily identify nearby security cameras when they are looking for video evidence.

The police department proposes launching a Fusus pilot program downtown that it says would be paid for with funding from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Police said if the program is successful the department may keep it going and could expand it to other parts of the city.

Support, opposition

The Dayton City Commission office received seven emailed messages about the proposed Fusus technology by Feb. 8, which was the deadline for written public comment.

Four messages opposed or raised concerns about the technology, while three were generally supportive of the police department expanding its technological capabilities.

Dayton police already have body-worn cameras and use automated license plate readers, and the city had a gunshot-detection system that it eventually decided to stop using, citing the cost.

Lodia Furnas, president of the Burkhardt / Springfield Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood supports police getting any tools they need.

Jason Gerard, a former downtown resident who relocated to Bellbrook, wrote that Dayton needs the ability to monitor crime in real time. He brought up two cases where he thinks this could have helped.

One was an unauthorized street takeover that occurred last month in downtown that saw cars doing burnouts and other reckless driving activities in the middle of intersections. The other incident occurred last fall during the downtown holiday festival when someone fired a gun in the air, resulting in a chaotic scene as families ran for safety.

But critics said they think this technology could invade people’s privacy and might violate their rights.

“I do not want the government spying and controlling my life,” wrote Mary Holtvoigt, in an email to the city commission office.

Julio Mateo, a member of the local Coalition on Public Protection, wrote in an email to the city that the impact report does not contain independent evaluations of Fusus that show whether or not it is effective at increasing safety or reducing crime.

Mateo said the report also does not include the cost of the technology nor does it contain other vital information required by a city ordinance regulating the adoption and use of police surveillance tools.

Mateo said police policy should explicitly prohibit Fusus from being used for “proactive policing,” such as surveilling community members.

He also said the police department should be required to submit a revised impact report that is compliant with the city’s surveillance technology ordinance and includes impartial information about potential discriminatory or adverse affects.

Businesses, other cities

Dayton police officers can’t be on every corner, but technology can help make up for limited law enforcement resources, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

The Downtown Dayton Partnership does not have an official position on Fusus technology, but a group of downtown stakeholders that were given information about the proposed pilot program overwhelmingly seemed in favor of it, Gudorf said.

Gudorf said she understands that some people have privacy concerns.

But she said the cameras police want to access are in public areas and right-of-ways. She said other communities have found this technology beneficial.

“It appears there are lots of advantages to using technology to help prevent crime and ultimately address crime issues,” Gudorf said.

Dayton Police said Trotwood, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, Cleveland, Toledo and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office are among those using this kind of technology.

Miamisburg police can access the exterior feeds of three private cameras, and 19 private cameras have been registered so police can reach out when incidents occur, the Miamisburg Police Department said.

Dayton police Major James Mullins said the pilot program would only include private cameras belonging to nonresidential property owners, like businesses, institutions and nonprofit groups.

Mullins said the cameras are in locations where people should not have an expectation of privacy.

Additional concerns

Numerous studies have shown that surveillance cameras have zero impact on deterring most criminal conduct, said Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Police already can obtain video surveillance from privately owned cameras when crimes and other incidents occur, but this technology would greatly expand their ability to surveil people and places, Marlow said.

Marlow said the Dayton Police Department’s impact report contains unsupported claims, and some of the information and assumptions come from biased sources — like the company selling the products.

“This looks like this is going to be a program that’s going to create an Orwellian surveillance network for Dayton,” he said. “It’s not going to keep people safe, it’s going to put certain populations at greater risk and it will undermine civil rights and civil liberties in the city.”

Marlow said the public has a chance to push back against this proposal because Dayton is one of 22 U.S. cities that have laws that require police to share information with the community and gather input from them about proposed law enforcement surveillance technologies.

Marlow, who helped draft surveillance technology legislation that was a model used by Dayton and other communities, said Dayton police can find better public safety solutions, saying this technology is not going to help deter or reduce crime.


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