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City Of Dayton Working With Activists On Police Surveillance Tech Ordinance

 An abandoned house stands at the intersection of Five Oaks Avenue and Richmond Avenue in West Dayton. This house is located a the heart of the Five Oaks neighborhood, one of several neighborhoods where the Dayton Police Department installed Shot spotter listening technology.
An abandoned house stands at the intersection of Five Oaks Avenue and Richmond Avenue in West Dayton. This house is located a the heart of the Five Oaks neighborhood, one of several neighborhoods where the Dayton Police Department installed Shot spotter listening technology.

A coalition of local activist groups is working with the City of Dayton to draft rules regarding police use of surveillance technology. The ordinance would create a new system of oversight and accountability before any new surveillance technologies are bought or used by the police department.

This effort comes after the city installed 30 cameras in the Twin Towers neighborhood to automatically read license plates. The readers were part of a pilot program that ran from April to July 2020.

The city also deployed ShotSpotter listening technology to detect gunshots in West Dayton neighborhoods earlier this year. The coalition argues that very few people were consulted before either system was installed.

President of the Dayton Unit NAACP Derrick L. Foward says this is why the coalition was created.

“Police departments around the country are rapidly adopting surveillance technologies like the ShotSpotter,” Foward said. “This technology can significantly impact civil rights and civil liberties.”

This ordinance would require the city commission to hold a public hearing where citizens can provide feedback on any request from the police department to purchase surveillance technology. The commission will then approve, deny or make modifications to the request.

The ordinance establishes an open process that gives notice to the community that the technology is being purchased,” Foward said. “And [it] gives the community the opportunity to share how technology affects their life before the commission approves the actual purchase of the equipment.”

The coalition consists of members from the Dayton Anti-Racist Network, Latinos Unidos, Black Lives Matter Dayton and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality. They hosted a virtual lunch and learn event last Wednesday discussing this effort.

Matt Cagle was invited to speak on the use of surveillance technology in police forces across the country. He is a senior attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said that these systems were first created by the Department of Homeland Security to counter terrorism after 9/11.

“The reality is, though, that the federal government has exercised little to no oversight over this money,” Cagle said. “DHS has sent billions and billions of dollars into local communities as part of this never ending war on terrorism. But these technologies aren't being used to catch terrorists, as we all know.”

Cagle says that this lack of oversight has given police departments access to advanced surveillance technology that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

“By and large, they're being used to create massive surveillance systems on our city streets and systems that continue to grow with each new wave of funding,” Cagle said. “If your police department doesn't need to ask all of you for consent to spend your taxpayer dollars... if they can just turn to the federal government and get a grant to buy this for free, that harms local democracy.”

The group is also working on an ordinance related to police buying and using surplus military equipment. They plan to host more lunch and learn events soon.

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