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Dayton City Commission votes to approve police surveillance tool

Dayton residents spoke both in support  and opposition to the license plate readers during a Dayton City Commission public hearing.
Alejandro Figueroa
Dayton residents spoke both in support and opposition to the license plate readers during a Dayton City Commission public hearing.

The Dayton City Commission voted to move forward with a police surveillance tool Wednesday night. The Dayton Police Department will be allowed to use and install automated license plate readers in neighborhoods. Although some have concerns about the technology.

Automated license plate readers are cameras mounted on buildings, street poles or police cruisers. The cameras automatically capture a license plate number, along with the make, model, year and color of the car.

The data is then sent to a central database. The information is kept for 30 days in the server, according to police.

DPD already has mobile license plate reader cameras installed on its cruisers. However, the technology had not been activated pending approval from the city commission.

Police officials said the cameras will help officers follow up on a criminal investigation faster, and minimize crimes in a neighborhood. But opponents claim the department hasn't properly described how it will use the technology, and they’re concerned about how the data will be used.

Melissa Bertolo, a member of the advisory committee for Latinos Unidos in Dayton, said the police department particularly failed to provide an impact report that complies with the city’s Surveillance Technology Oversight Ordinance.

“As a community, we deserve to have reliable and consistent information,” Bertolo said. “Our concerns with the policy include the fact that it's largely silent and insufficient and how it protects privacy, civil rights and civil liberties.”

The ordinance includes processes for information DPD must provide when it proposes to use a new surveillance technology. Some additional concerns include the possible over-policing of Black neighborhoods and questions about how undocumented immigrants would be protected.

Dayton Chief of Police Kamran Afzal, said he understands the concerns. But assures the data cannot be used for other purposes, such as sharing it with federal agencies.

“Safeguarding information for this department or any department is not new business. We have so much information at the tip of our hands,” Afzal said. “And when was the last time that you heard us use that information improperly? It’s a class five felony for us to use that information incorrectly.”

Some reports claim there’s still a lack of regulation on how the data is stored and used. A report by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union calls for legislation around the readers as they spread throughout the country.

At the public hearing, which took over two hours of Afzal answering questions for the commission and public comments, there were also community proponents — half of the public comments opposed the cameras and half were proponents.

Some business owners and neighborhood associations cited increased crime in some areas as a reason to install the cameras.

After the public comment period, Mayor Jeffrey Mims and Commissioners Matt Joseph and Chris Shaw voted yes to approve the technology, with Commissioners Shenise Turner-Sloss and Darryl Fairchild voting against.

Fairchild said he didn’t believe the police department's impact report on the technology to be objective.

“I think we've missed the mark, not only here, but on other occasions. We haven't really explored or acknowledged or even communicated the important concerns that lie behind that [automated license plate readers].” Fairchild said.

Mayor Mims said there’s already a lot of cities around Dayton already using this technology, and it’s about time Dayton catches up.

“I think the issue is that we're almost behind in terms of doing this. The sole purpose of this whole process is to upgrade our system with technology so we can have a better set of opportunities to protect Dayton residents.” he said.

The police department will now move forward with activating the mobile cameras and looking for a vendor to purchase the fixed readers. The cameras will only be installed in communities who want the cameras as part of their neighborhood safety plan.

Watch the full meeting here:

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Email: afigueroa@wyso.org
Phone: 937-917-5943