City Council discusses ordinance regulating police surveillance technology
On Sept. 19, the Davis City Council held a meeting at the Davis Community Chambers to address the surveillance technology used by the Davis Police Department and how the department can go about using and purchasing more surveillance equipment in the future. The Davis Human Relations Commission had previously proposed an ordinance that would be in line with the American Civil Liberties Union’s recommended guidelines. The ACLU has spearheaded a national campaign for transparency with surveillance technology, stating that “surveillance technology is often proposed as an efficient public safety tool. But too often, proposals ignore not only the true financial costs of surveillance technology, but also their potential to infringe on civil rights and undermine public trust and effective policing.” The cities of San Jose and Santa Clara have recently adopted similar ordinances that fall in line with the ACLU’s guide.
Davis Chief of Police Darren Pytel gave a presentation during the meeting that provided the police staff’s recommendations for the proposed ordinance.
“What this is about is trying to strike a balance between public transparency and the need to effectively investigate criminal cases using modern technology,” Pytel said. “There is some modern technology that’s widely used in law enforcement. Some of it is simple as car- and body-worn cameras, and there’s other technology that’s used to fight crime. The issue is that disclosure of that technology and how it’s been used — whether that helps criminals commit future acts.”
Pytel described the ordinance proposed by the Davis Human Relations Commission as “onerous” as he reasoned the department would need to hire someone to sift through hours of body- and dash-cam footage. His outlined plan for the ordinance required less oversight from local government and allowed the department to purchase equipment without a warrant under “exigent circumstances.”
Mayor Robb Davis used a metaphor to describe Pytel’s proposed ordinance.“So the council could create the menu of technologies that could be used,” Davis said. “You would still need a court order to use anything that’s on the menu, but if you wanted to order off the menu, that’s where we would fall into this exigent circumstance.”
A lengthy public forum followed Chief Pytel’s presentation as residents came forward in support of an ordinance that followed the ACLU’s model, which also offers a civilian oversight component to the program. Members of the Human Relations Commission also came forward, defending their proposed ordinance to the council. Commission members Dean Johansson and David Greenwald, along with several other residents, came forward to voice their opinions in front of the council.
The council’s meeting concluded with the council voting unanimously in support of an ordinance that would closely follow the ACLU’s model and allow citizens and local government to regulate the Davis Police Department’s use of surveillance technology and require the police to go through city council if they need a particular piece of equipment.
City Councilman Will Arnold concluded the meeting with the following statement: “I’m in agreement with my colleagues […] I believe the Human Relations [Commission’s] recommendation is not too onerous. I’m excited to embrace it […] I urge our staff to move forward with crafting an ordinance for our city that is reflective of what the Human Relations Commission has approved.”
Written by: Ahash Francis — firstname.lastname@example.org