Dayton imposes regulations on police surveillance tech

Dayton police and EMS crews respond to an incident in downtown Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton police and EMS crews respond to an incident in downtown Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton has approved new rules and regulations on police surveillance technology, the use of which has prompted community concerns about privacy, civil rights, citizen notification and overpolicing.

A new city ordinance requires police to notify the public, hold a public hearing, report information and receive city commission approval before acquiring and deploying new surveillance tools.

“We try to balance the needs of our police to catch bad guys and the needs of our citizens to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” said Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph, who said months of work went into this new ordinance. “The legislation we’ve come up with I think balances that as well as anybody in the country does.”

Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Some community members say police and the city did not sufficiently vet and gather community feedback before implementing a gunshot-detection system and some license plate readers.

But some of those critics endorse this ordinance, which they say should provide meaningful opportunities for community input, even though they still have a few concerns.

“Our coalition has reviewed the proposed ordinance and we support it because we believe it is an important step toward transparency and accountability for policing technology,” wrote Kathleen Kersh and Ellis Jacobs, counsel for a coalition that consists of groups including Black Lives Matter Dayton, Latinos Unidos and the Dayton Hispanic Chamber.

On Wednesday, Dayton City Commission unanimously approved a new “oversight” ordinance that requires police to notify the public when it is considering new surveillance technology.

Under the legislation, police must submit a “surveillance impact report” describing the new technology, how it works and what its intended use will be.

The report must contain known cost estimates, possible adverse effects on civil rights and liberties and a description of what police have done to inform and engage the community about the proposed technology.

Dayton police Major Christopher Malson, who is in charge of the West Patrol Operations division, says ShotSpotter is helping police discover more shootings. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Dayton police Major Christopher Malson, who is in charge of the West Patrol Operations division, says ShotSpotter is helping police discover more shootings. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The police department will be required to submit the impact report to the commission and a proposed surveillance use policy at least 30 days before a public hearing.

That information will be posted on the city’s website and notice will be sent out on social media and other ways.

The city commission will hear and consider information from police and concerned citizens during a public hearing before they decide whether to approve or reject proposed surveillance technology, said John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel.

“The purpose of this ordinance is not to dissuade the police department from using new technology that will make Dayton’s streets safer and protect citizens from crime,” Musto said. “Its purpose is to establish rules that maximize crime prevention while at the same protecting citizens’ privacy.”

By the end of each year, the Dayton Police Department will be required to present an annual surveillance report to the city commission describing how the technology and its generated data was used and its cost and effectiveness, Musto said.

Barbara Dosek, Dayton's city attorney, and John Musto, the city's chief trial counsel. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Barbara Dosek, Dayton's city attorney, and John Musto, the city's chief trial counsel. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

Reports also will contain citizens’ complaints about the surveillance tools and recommendations for improvements, he said.

The ordinance also requires the city manager to adopt use policies for existing surveillance technology within the next 180 days. Existing surveillance tools also will be subject to annual reporting requirements.

Some community members and local groups criticized police for deploying a ShotSpotter gunshot-alert system in northwest Dayton and license plate readers in the Twin Towers area.

They said few community members were consulted before the devices or systems were deployed, and they formed a new coalition that called for regulations on surveillance technology.

Ellis Jacobs, counsel for a coalition concerned about police surveillance technology, at a press conference last year outside the Montgomery County Jail. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Ellis Jacobs, counsel for a coalition concerned about police surveillance technology, at a press conference last year outside the Montgomery County Jail. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

In a letter sent to the city commission this week, counsel for the coalition said its members support the ordinance because it “moves Dayton toward the forefront of cities that take seriously the challenge these technologies pose to civil rights and civil liberties.”

Other coalition members include the Dayton unit of the NAACP, Leaders for Equality & Action in Dayton, the Miami Valley Immigration Coalition, LULAC Dayton and Hispanic Catholic Ministries.

But in their letter, Kersh and Jacobs said coalition members still have concerns, especially about language exempting tools that police say will be compromised by disclosure.

Kersh and Jacobs also said residents should be notified and get a chance to provide feedback when “fixed” surveillance technology is moved into new areas.

“Despite these concerns, we feel the ordinance is an important step forward for the city,” the counsel said in their letter. “We look forward to continuing to work with the city to improve upon it in the coming years once we have more experience with its results.”

Commissioner Joseph called the legislation “groundbreaking.

He said it is more workable and sustainable than what other communities across the nation have adopted to regulate surveillance technology.

Joseph said the commission will review this oversight process regularly to figure out if it is working and achieving transparency goals.

“I look forward to perfecting this in years to come,” he said.

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