Cops Complain After San Diego Residents Are Finally Allowed To Oversee City Surveillance Programs

from the public-service-entity-enraged-to-discover-it-needs-to-serve-the-public dept

There’s very little that seems to anger public servants more than mandates requiring them to serve the public. For years, the San Diego police department has expanded its surveillance programs. And for years, these expansions have gone unchallenged.

But now that the city has passed an ordinance requiring more direct oversight of police activity, cops are singing the thin blue line blues and claiming the public has no business overseeing the business of public agencies. The cop pushback against slightly increased accountability has begun, as David Hernandez reports for the San Diego Union-Tribune. (h/t Michael Vario)

After years of work to create oversight of surveillance technologies in San Diego, an ordinance that will govern how the city uses the technology received final approval from the City Council this week.

The work began after residents learned in 2019 that the city had installed a network of about 3,000 cameras on streetlights three years earlier, and police used the technology to investigate certain types of crimes. Some residents expressed concerns over potential civil liberty violations and over-policing, particularly in communities of color.

Under the ordinance, the City Council must approve the use of technology that can monitor and identify individuals. City staff members will need to issue reports that outline the intended use of such technology, and the public and a newly created privacy advisory board will be asked to weigh in.

This seems like the least the local government could do, especially when residents have made it clear they’re concerned about always-on surveillance and potential police abuse of the expanded surveillance network.

And this should be the bare minimum asked of police departments. These public agencies are supposed to weigh public safety efforts against the impact on constitutional rights and the public’s expectations that its movements won’t be constantly surveilled by their government.

But this minimal push towards accountability has been greeted by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) as a declaration of war on the department. Cops may have guns, badges, and a shitload of power, but any time someone demands a little more accountability, police officials make it clear cops have the thinnest skin and the most extreme sense of entitlement.

San Diego police Capt. Jeffrey Jordon said the department uses a host of technological devices that will require approval, including body-worn cameras, polygraphs and forensic lab equipment.

“I’m not aware of any other cities in America that have to report out this many pieces of technology,” he said.

Hilarious. Cops like being ahead of the tech curve, but they truly hate being on the leading edge of accountability and transparency. Jeffrey Jordon should consider himself lucky to be an accountability pioneer. Instead, he acts like the city he serves should be part of the accountability long tail — so far removed from those acting boldly that no one will even notice the SDPD grabbing mandated coattails as its dragged into complying with expectations held by hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country.

This SDPD official would rather be named “Least Likely to Win the Public’s Trust” than submit to cursory examinations of surveillance tech used by the department. And he makes this assertion despite being given access to a sizable loophole. The ordinance exempts officers participating in federal task forces, which means all the SDPD has to do to avoid this minor increase in public scrutiny is ask federal officers for assistance.

The SDPD’s opposition doesn’t just deserve criticism. It deserves ridicule. Officers sporting blue line flags and misappropriated Punisher gear, who engage in routine rights violations and intimidation are now crying about being asked to answer to the public. Rather than realize they have plenty of power that could be deployed for the public good, SDPD officials are complaining the new mandate will be, at best, slightly inconvenient. The blue in the “thing blue line” stands for bitchassness. When police leaders are asked to step up, they choose to complain about being expected to hold themselves and their officers to a higher standard.

Cry harder. Wipe your tears on your qualified immunity, multiple constitutional exemptions, and generous pension programs. An opportunity was presented that gave the SDPD a chance to repair its damaged relationship with residents. But rather than seize the opportunity, cop officials have chosen to pretend increased accountability is an insult to the business of law enforcement — something so far out of the norm it should be considered an aberration not worth of public support.

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Comments on “Cops Complain After San Diego Residents Are Finally Allowed To Oversee City Surveillance Programs”

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11 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'We watch YOU, you don't get to watch US!'

I don’t see what the problem is, I mean aren’t cops huge fans of the whole ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear’ idea? Surely so long as they’re not doing stuff they really shouldn’t be this shouldn’t be more than a minor speedbump for them.

“I’m not aware of any other cities in America that have to report out this many pieces of technology,” he said.

Yeah, that’s not sending the message he thinks it does… If basic accountability and reporting is some foreign concept to US police that is most certainly a problem, but not in the way he seems to think is it.

cryophallion (profile) says:

One of these things is not like the others

The list of technology he chooses to point out will need approval is rather telling, and one of them made me literally raise my eyebrows.

Let’s begin with the easy one: body worn cameras. Is he seriously concerned they won’t approve them? Or is this a ploy to try and not have to use them until they get “council approval”… and oops, we wrote the wrong model number, so we can’t use those still. Shucks. Well, at least we don’t have to worry about them spending valuable time making sure they don’t work, aren’t charged, or just not hitting the record buffer. I am quite sure productivity will skyrocket.

Ok, now onto the telling one. Umm, for how long now have we known polygraphs are absurd? I believe most jurisdictions hold they are inadmissable, so why on earth would you be trying to get approval for it, and why do you hold that one up as a specific important item? How often are they using them? In what situations are they using them?

It is also interesting to note that that is listed separately than the generic lab equipment. Does that mean that they don’t consider it forensic lab equipment?

And with so much forensic equipment being shown to be far less reliable than the masses having been indoctrinated by countless CSI and Law and Order spinoffs would have us believe, how exactly is this a bad thing? It means making sure evidence will hold up at trial, and not be constantly scrutinized by the defense. (This assumes that the reviewing committee actually checks this stuff out and hasn’t been brainwashed by Dick Wolf which is likely too much to ask for, but we can dream).

I am just shocked that they even mention polygraph. And even more so, appalled that Tim didn’t use it for snarky ammo to roast them.

In the end, I’m just saddened that Captains are this out of touch, and that something like a lie detector is still apparently so important to this police department.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Let’s begin with the easy one: body worn cameras. Is he seriously concerned they won’t approve them? Or is this a ploy

Alternatively, consider how often groups of body cameras suddenly all stop working at once when a group of policemen move in to apprehend an unarmed suspect. Allowing non-cops to go over their tech is certainly, at least, going to make convenient camera failures seem more suspicious than they already are.

How often are they using them? In what situations are they using them?

The last time I remember polygraphs being mentioned on Techdirt was when Malibu Media demanded that a John Doe submit himself to a polygraph test to prove his innocence… which he agreed to, and they promptly pulled back from the request when they realized he was not going to be so easily cowed.

And with so much forensic equipment being shown to be far less reliable than the masses having been indoctrinated by countless CSI and Law and Order spinoffs would have us believe, how exactly is this a bad thing? It means making sure evidence will hold up at trial, and not be constantly scrutinized by the defense.

Realistically, any decent defense should be scrutinizing evidence brought by the prosecution, but cops really aren’t interested in being scrutinized at all. They enjoy having their word treated as unquestioned gospel truth. The ones who are, at least, a little more honest, will tell you that their job isn’t figuring out who’s innocent, it’s getting enough evidence to charge someone with something – and even if they do nail someone innocent, they’ve always got the “I’m just doing my job” excuse to fall back on.

Whether or not evidence holds up at trial is immaterial to cops. They know full well that the judicial system will look out for them unless it becomes too egregious to do so. What cops don’t enjoy is being inconvenienced, and that includes the plebeians trying to hold them accountable. Because cops understand that the whole shtick of “If you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide” is a bullshit claim that even they don’t believe, which is why they get angry when the tables are turned on them.

Cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Supposedly tightening the, uh, sphincter muscles when answering can hide the supposed physical indicators of deception. It would take some practice to coordinate that squeeze with answering the questions consistently. And it’s going to take practice to be able to complete 100 or so reps of that squeeze, since they ask the same set of questions nearly a dozen times. It’s probably not as easy as you think.
Ultimately the test results aren’t the point, the interrogation around the test is. The machine is just theater, something to point to in justifying further interrogation.

Cattress (profile) says:

Re:

I, naively and foolishly, took a polygraph for the police in 2013. While there are some different methodologies for how they are administered & “read”, depending on the purpose, the actual tech, as in the machine measuring a few physical fluctuations is little more than theater and a tool for psychological manipulation. I thought that since I didn’t do anything wrong, that because I was the victim of a crime, and because the police report I needed in order to get replacement medicine was conditioned on my taking the polygraph, I went into the police station completely unprepared for an encounter so stressful that 1/3rd of my hair started coming in grey.
First, the “detective” gets you to waive your rights, without ever explaining that you can still invoke them at any time, or what your options are if you want a lawyer. Still don’t know how it works when you can’t afford a lawyer but need one before being arrested and charged. Anyway, using their best good cop impression, they conduct an interview. It’s not off the record, but they lead you to believe that this part is just so that they can calibrate the machine to your body before the “actual test”. They use this time to explain how the machine “works”, with some bullshit about it’s proven scientific credentials. They build a report, ask you personal questions, look for weaknesses or flaws that can be exploited or manipulated. They develop roughly 10 yes/no questions that are designed to unsettle you, to make you feel unsure of yourself. For instance, in the past x months, have you lied to someone who loves and trusts you/ your employer? Are you sure you told the detective everything you know about incident? Questions that make you doubt yourself, or that a strict yes/no answer lacks enough context to feel entirely honest. (Because maybe you did tell your mom or boss that task xyz was done, when you were just getting started, and that was a lie until the task was completed). And strap the equipment on you, including a blood pressure cuff that is almost perpetually squeezing the shit out of your arm. (Seriously, the hospital doesn’t run blood pressure checks that closely together) You can’t have anything to drink if you get thirsty, and you are supposed to sit very still on a wood chair, and someone fucks with the thermostat to ensure you are uncomfortable. They do more theatric calibration of the machine, directing you to lie intentionally for some questions, like answering no when they verify your name. You know, ham it up, get a baseline for a lie on the machine. Then the “test” begins, and they ask you those same 10 questions, in the same order over & over & over. After 10-15 cycles of the questions, the “test” is over. The detective then pretends that they must go down the hall to get the results off the printer or from another “detective”, leaving you in a room with no clock, nothing to drink, no access to your personal effects, with the thermostat jacked up to 80 or dropped down 50, whichever makes you most uncomfortable. Then the detective comes back in and tells you your results indicated you were being deceptive, and now is your chance to open up to officer Friendly McBuddy about the truth, so they can help you, because they understand you. They repeatedly accuse you of deception, twist things you said in your pre-interview, try to gotcha, the whole gamut of physiological manipulation tactics, for hours on end. And the more you deny, the more assured they are that you are lying. I don’t know how long the cop can hold you because I cracked about 2 hours after the test itself had ended. I literally began to believe that I must have done something wrong, that I must have been dishonest or left out some important information that my subconscious knew was wrong. I had been crying hysterically for most of those 2 hours, and already dehydrated from the dry mouth my medicine causes. I just wanted to go home. I thought since I waived my rights that they were gone. That if I asked for an attorney that I would have to be arrested to get 1. I was really just being badgered and coerced because the cops are ignorant dicks who don’t know how to operate ethically and are too lazy to do real work. This was all over someone stealing my Adderall that I take for narcolepsy, so I can do things like drive safely, to my job and do said job competently so that I could keep the job that paid for a roof over my head. But while cops can’t possibly be expected to know what the law they are responsible for enforcing is, they believe themselves to be medical psychics who can spot a faker from 50 paces. Polygraphs are just a way to manipulate and coerce confessions with an air of scientific validity. The tests cannot be used against a defendant in court, but they can be used as exculpatory evidence for the defendant. I don’t know how often or if that ever happens, but that is how the law works, in Delaware at least. Regardless, the main purpose is really the the pre and post test interrogation, not the biological readings.
For an entire year I had to hassle the public defender’s office to do something because I wasn’t guilty. I tried to get a copy of the polygraph test results,so that I could see the supposed biological indicators of deception, but the public defender was really only interested in getting me to take a plea deal. I ended up having to go over his head to a supervisor for actual defense. Even then, it wasn’t until I asked if there was any way to impeach the cop with any history of moral turpitude before suddenly he was interested in hearing me out. I can only assume that basically my very young defense attorney had just written me off as a junky like the cops. The supervisor requested my medical records, which I had suggested repeatedly, and they had me talk to their forensic psychiatrist. The day of my trial the whole thing ended with an anticlimactic decision not to prosecute that could have been accomplished 6 months before if just an ounce of effort had been made on my behalf.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

The police are funded by taxes on the public. That’s where their payrolls, pensions, money to buy tech items, as well as all the protections they are granted.

Such monies come with strings to prevent corruption, theft of public contributions, as well as accountability. It comes with the territory when you accept public funding.

It is not a ‘if you would be kind enough to respond’ but rather ‘it is required’.

If the SDPD would rather not give out such info, perhaps they should refuse the tax money that funds them. Of course in doing that there’s that little sticky problem of that’s where their pay and pensions come from.

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