Little Brother: Surveillance Technology

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Last night I attended a fascinating community meeting in Beach Flats.  Beach Flats is traditionally a Latino community of proud immigrants and vibrant culture.  It has also been the site of several shootings, mostly targeting men of color.

This past year (2019), we had 19 shootings — shooters disproportionally targeted Beach Flat residents. Along the way police detectives solved many of the cases, officers seized 19 guns, yet the shootings continue.

Last night’s community meeting was to discuss the use of license plate reader technology as a mechanism for preventing violence and apprehending suspects should it occur. Criminals make rational choices.  Will I get caught?  Where am I most likely to find suitable targets? If suspects know that LPR’s are in use, it creates a higher apprehension risk to offenders.

One mother told me, “I was in my apartment, and my teenage son was outside playing.  I heard POP, POP-the sound of gunfire.  I panicked. Please try anything to help prevent my son from being shot.”  Another person, don’t put obstacles in the way of the police. We need help. The people who don’t want LPR’s don’t live here. They don’t understand my fear.  They are not from here.

LPR’s will not solve shootings in the long run.  It may help, however, in the short term.  That is the goal.

The bigger question for public debate is how much surveillance technology is too much.  What level of oversight should there be on its use?

There is a proposed ordinance circulating that could significantly limit the police use of technology, making it a crime, and bring rigorous oversight.

SCPD met with community members from all sides of the spectrum who voiced concern, and yet many want to harness technology to help solve and prevent crime. There will be more public meetings, such as the two mentioned, and I invite your comments in this public forum.

Attached is the proposal and our initial recommendations to change the ordinance.

Santa Cruz City Use of Surveillance Technology_Comparisons 021120

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