A Border Town faces the Reality of Police Surveillance


The council approved a move asking the Human Relations Commission to review the plaque program every three months. Medina said the commission was already overloaded, and he proposed creating an independent oversight body to conduct audits and serve as a liaison with residents and police.

He said an independent group could be better tracked if police are targeted in specific neighborhoods using cameras, check if the cameras are effective in reducing crime, and hold town officials accountable. “How do we know that ALPR is not being used in a specific community, as a hyper-policing of specific communities and spaces?” he asked.

Pedro Rios, director of the U.S. / Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee, questioned how police interpreted “personal data.” He said it was a California law law enforcement is prohibited from sharing personal information with immigration agencies such as ICE. But when Rios sent a letter to police arguing not to share this data, police said the ALPR data was not “personally identifiable.”

“They just let themselves go,” Rios said.

According to the 2021 budget, the CVPD is highest funding department in the city, as it really is in many cities across the country.

“The Chula Vista Police department is always happy with any community engagement, be it critical or supportive, and that’s not the same thing together,” Captain Eric Thunberg, the department’s public information officer told WIRED. “We believe we do well, but we always strive to be better and provide fair, respectful, and compassionate service to our community.”

In an emailed statement, the city manager’s office stressed that the council’s decision is unified and includes new safeguards, including regular audits and a review of the policy. “These efforts are intended to balance community concerns regarding privacy and the need for this essential public safety tool,” the email reads.

The town is also requesting an independent audit from the California Department of Justice and will stop sharing the data with any federal agency or police department outside of California.

The outcry against the ALPR system, amid national talk about politics and immigration, has prompted some residents to consider the city’s surveillance facilities, a notable move after years of silent acceptance.

At the council meeting, residents also expressed concerns about the city’s drone program. Many know that drones are often used for non-emergencies, such as small traffic or homeless people. slept on a bench or sidewalk. The most expensive drones in the city (two new DJI Matrice 210 V2 Drones) worth $ 35,000 each and requires officers to be trained to fly them. Police said they were there used drones to answer 1,300 calls for service this year. Similar to ALPR, they do not have a local governing body. The police publicly announced the location of the drone flights, but, like readers of the plaque, Medina and others raised concerns of reason.

Kennedy said drones could be sent first to officers to see if a police response is still needed, knowing that, in nearly 300 cases, police ultimately choose not to send an officer. .

Almost 1,600 state and local public safety agencies get drones until March 2020, according to the Center for the Study of the Drone. Chula Vista is the first town in the country granted special FAA approval to use police drones in 100 percent of the city. Other municipalities may wish to follow suit.

In emails got by Forbes, Skydio public relations chief William Reber, a Chula Vista police officer, told the city’s former police chief that one purpose of the city’s drone approval specialist is to “get an approved format that can be followed by other agencies.

Drones and ALPR systems continue in the city, with some indications that they could also be seen in other towns. While the city promises to more equitably enforce its surveillance devices, there is little relief for residents who feel resources could be improved elsewhere.


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