Lancaster, California Rolls Out Law Enforcement Surveillance Tech The Right Way -- By Involving The Public

from the you-know,-the-little-people-who-pay-your-salaries dept

Recently we covered another example of law enforcement's "deploy first, check with public later" attitude towards new surveillance technology. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. had partnered with Persistent Surveillance Systems to keep an eye on the entire city of Compton utilizing a plane armed with a cluster of high-powered cameras. Rather surprisingly, the LASD offered no defense of its decision to run this by the public it serves. Instead, it simply informed the public that their input was hardly conducive to its widespread surveillance plans.

“The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” (LASD Sgt.) Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”
That's the LASD's public-facing policy, apparently. If it thinks you might have a problem with new surveillance, it just won't tell you until after it's in use. On the bright side, the powerful cameras aren't quite powerful enough… yet. This pilot program has been discontinued, not out of privacy concerns, but because the resolution just isn't high enough to be useful.
The cameras, despite a total 192 million pixels of resolution, sweep such a wide area that each individual appears as a single pixel - not nearly discerning enough to detect race, sex or other distinguishing characteristics, [Persistent Surveillance Solutions president Ross] McNutt said.
In its stead, the LASD is rolling out more cameras at ground level.
Compton rejected the aerial observation, in part, because it had already been satisfied with the results it got from video cameras it had installed in nine city parks, said City Manager Harold Duffey. The 15 cameras helped thwart crime enough that the city is in the midst of planning a program to install about 75 cameras along major thoroughfares at a cost of $2.7 million.
The previously-installed cameras were deployed as yet another excuse for not telling the public about the high-flying camera cluster.
"Citizens weren't notified because cameras were already installed in Compton on the ground," said Nicole Nishida, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.
Got it. Any new surveillance tech can now be rolled out without notifying the public because surveillance tech already exists. Perhaps the new camera system is being installed by Recursive Surveillance Solutions.

But it doesn't have to be handled this way. Obviously, law enforcement is like nearly every other entity: the path of least resistance is usually the one most traveled. If cutting out the public means deploying the technology you'd like to have in place, then all apologies and privacy considerations can be handled weeks, months or years down the road. As the DOJ itself has stated, civil liberties are nothing more than Get Out of Jail Free cards for criminals.

Lancaster, CA also instituted some new aerial surveillance. But the city decided a more open process might be welcomed by those on the receiving end of law enforcement's new capabilities.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said that the city was happy with its system and that alerting the public led to more acceptance.

"Initially, there was a lot of concerns of Big Brother in the sky. But now the feeling is it is reassuring when it is up there. People got quite upset when it was down for a time for technical problems," he said.

"It's important to be as transparent as possible with these decisions," he said.
Lancaster's system covers a much narrower area and is only deployed by local law enforcement under certain conditions. It's not persistent and is usually deployed to accidents or crime scenes. This limited scope and usage is likely a direct result of including the public as stakeholders in their own surveillance. The natural tendency of law enforcement is to gravitate towards a wider scope and fewer limitations.

Cutting the public out may have resulted in something more resembling Compton's pilot project. Instead, it became a system many of the citizens view as useful, helpful and at least indirectly related to their safety. The only way Lancaster can lose now is if the Sheriff's Dept. abuses its technology. But it's less likely to do so now that it's had public input, a process that humanizes those who have concerns about persistent surveillance. It ensures they are treated with more respect, rather than just assumed to be either a.) criminals or b.) crazy.

This also works in the other direction, humanizing those deploying the surveillance, most of whom are probably good people who just want to do their job well. Transparency does truly work both ways, and those charged with protecting the public are better off having them on their side, rather than simply pushing forward with pervasive surveillance and generating more antagonism.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 3:17pm

    It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 4:03pm


    But in the long run it is so much cheaper and easier to ask permission first because you aren't trying to cover up or save face when the truth eventually comes out.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Sheogorath (profile), May 12th, 2014 @ 5:13pm

    Is that so?

    From the article: Any new surveillance tech can now be rolled out without notifying the public because surveillance tech already exists.
    If the sherrif's office truly accepts that, maybe they'll accept politicians playing catamite for those higher up in government just because the Lib Dems are already doing so for the Tories.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Loki, May 12th, 2014 @ 5:23pm

    Not that the general consensus is always the correct one, or that the general population can't sometimes be easily swayed, but when you reach the point that you aren't consulting or even informing the public about your actions, you are no longer *serving* the public.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 6:16pm

    It's been a while, but time was Lancaster police services were provided by LA County Sheriff under contract. If that is still the case, this is a huge "in your face" to LASD's claims that involving the public is 'too hard' or 'counterproductive.'


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    zeiche (profile), May 12th, 2014 @ 7:34pm

    Legal Surveillance?

    Lancasterís citizens might even support use of the camera system for surveillance. That is, as long as a search warrant is signed in public by a judge each time the system is used to conduct a search.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 8:27pm

    Impressive, Tim. Trying to find a balance between the cop rant and praising when they do good must be hard since you hate them so much. But kudos for this article.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2014 @ 11:07pm

    Re: Is that so?

    Wrong Lancaster.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    David, May 13th, 2014 @ 2:38am

    1 pixel per person?

    The thing to note is that we are talking about videos here. Like with phone metadata, integration over time and accumulation of knowledge turns bad data into good one.

    The first identifying factor likely getting out from the data is gait. Then we get to suspicious patterns, like alternating phases of waiting and fast movement, possibly correlated to the presence of other persons.

    Clothing is next, stature then. Tracking just a few facial pixels over thousands of frames will get some grainy features.

    And so on and so on. Of course, the computing power for cooking all that data without previous suspicion to a degree where you can make useful correlations is not there yet. But it will be there eventually.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Seegras (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 5:44am

    criminal police

    Obviously, the criminals in this case are the LASD.

    What I do not understand is that they're not already under criminal investigation.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Killer_Tofu (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 6:34am


    Well, I would say that they are servicing them. They are servicing them the exact way they want to. And that is to say the same way it is considering servicing when a bull impregnates a cow.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Ninja (profile), May 13th, 2014 @ 7:15am

    TARGETED surveillance with proper justification (and when applicable a warrant). Sounds like the way law enforcement should be operating, no?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Dan G Difino II, May 13th, 2014 @ 7:37am

    Modern Totalitarianism

    In the face of widespread anarchy, these days that we live in, with governmental paranoid psychosis, all the surveillance activity on its own citizens, crazy shoot first ask questions later general military orders for domestic and foreign policy, and the lists go on, one thing for sure is that this unconscienably, unaccountable activity must have George Orwell, wherever he is now, creaming his pants.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Pragmatic, May 13th, 2014 @ 8:17am


    Yep. Lancaster has got it right. People WANT to cooperate when they are included in policy-making.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    Sheogorath (profile), Jun 7th, 2014 @ 11:16pm

    Re: Re: Is that so?

    Um, not really. I'm guessing the Lancaster referred to is the US county and not the UK city, which in no way detracts from the point I was making.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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