New Orleans Surveillance Program Gives Powerful Tools to a Police Department With a History of Racism and Abuse

23rd May 2018

As you walk down Felicity Street in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans, red and blue flashing lights radiate from around the corner. But when you turn on to South Liberty Street, you won’t find a patrol car. Your gaze will rise to the peak of a street lamp where the lights are fastened to an NOPD surveillance camera that, just like the lights, runs 24 hours a day.

The beams engulf the small, seven-house block, reflecting off the windows of cars and homes, ricocheting off the bicycles of kids riding by, and lighting up the cheeks of Keisha Smith, who sits on her stoop eating crawfish. “I hate those lights,” she says. “There’s no privacy for us now. Everyone’s uncomfortable. I feel like somebody’s always watching me.” She looks up at the camera and shivers. “Why’d they have to put those here? It’s like trauma when I see that red and blue.”

This camera is just one of an unknown number that the city installed over the past few months, part of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s $40 million public safety plan which the American Civil Liberties Union has condemned as “surveillance on steroids.” The plan also includes new license plate readers and a controversial city ordinance that requires the installation of cameras on the outside of all bars and liquor stores.

The plan has endured criticism about its high cost and the lack of evidence that surveillance programs are an effective crime prevention strategy. Still others have worried that the Big Easy’s free-wheeling spirit and eccentricity will wane under the perpetual gaze of the police.

But more concerning is the public safety plan’s ambiguous purpose and the potential for abuse. It seems that the only oversight will come from the city’s Office of Homeland Security and from within the police department itself, which is currently under a federal consent decree for a myriad of violations including “a pattern of stops, searches, and arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment.”

A spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department insisted that the department had controls on access to its systems, and that all activity on the system is logged and monitored, leaving an audit trail in cases of abuse. But beyond that, the department has failed to answer basic questions about how the cameras will be used, what technology it will incorporate, how long the footage will be stored, and who will have access to the footage.

The lack of details has sparked anxiety among the city’s undocumented immigrants, who fear that the new data will fall into the hands of the city’s exceptionally aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office.

But in the most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the country, where black communities endure the brunt of police power, the most salient concern is how this powerful tool could exacerbate the city’s already racially disparate law enforcement.

 

 

source/read more: https://theintercept.com/2018/03/06/new-orleans-surveillance-cameras-nopd-police/

 

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