City rejects use of surveillance planes

The city of Dayton has decided not to conduct aerial surveillance for police purposes, City Manager Tim Riordan announced at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting.

“While we believe there are real potential benefits to the strategic application of this technology, we heard enough confusion over how it would be applied to concern us,” Riordan said.

Commissioner Joey Williams said the city made the right decision based on citizen feedback but should revisit the issue over time. Commissioner Nan Whaley said the proposal put technology ahead of civil liberties.

But Police Chief Richard Biehl said he was disappointed by the decision and said the public dialogue lacked balance.

“While I clearly recognize free speech rights and privacy rights, what I didn’t hear much discussion of was concern for victims of crime … or a conversation about the fundamental right to life,” Biehl said, referring to the cameras’ potential to solve or prevent violent crime.

Commissioner Matt Joseph said he was disappointed that “for whatever reason it wasn’t the right time.” But he doubted the city would actually revisit the issue in the near future, adding, “With the reaction we got, it’s clear the citizens aren’t ready for it.”

Dayton had considered a contract with Persistent Surveillance Systems Inc. for 120 hours of wide-area camera surveillance from a piloted aircraft this summer. The city created policies limiting how the technology would be used, including privacy protections, but opponents of the surveillance project clearly dominated an April 9 meeting.

Melissa Bilancini of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said she believes the city’s policy needs three main additions – requiring a warrant unless an emergency existed, an independent audit and explicit policies on data sharing.

Biehl said the Boston Marathon bombings made a case in favor of the cameras — a major event where surveillance would occur, and images might show a perpetrator coming or going. Asked about that event, Bilancini said she “would still argue that it’s important to have a policy in place that is going to protect individuals.”

Ross McNutt, president of PSS, said his company is trying to protect individuals too, by solving crimes. He said it’s too early to tell whether his company will stay at Dayton’s TechTown site.

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