Let’s Talk Truth
About Fighting Crime With Technology
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)
On September 11, 2018, Addison Police Chief Paul Spencer gave a presentation to the Council regarding Addison’s pilot project for installation of technology for reading license plates and working with facial recognition software. During his discussion, Chief Spencer stated that “clear policies will be enacted to guide the process,” and further commented:
“We want to make sure we have communication between the police department and the community to ensure transparency and accountability for this project. There’s a lot of privacy concerns and some other concerns and we’ll make sure they’re addressed.”
Chief Spencer laid out certain guiding principles, which included use of the data only for investigating crimes, short retention periods (days and weeks, not months and years), no sharing of data with commercial or non-law-enforcement entities, and the availability of information to non-criminal residents who want to know whether their information is in the system. Chief Spencer confirmed that the license plate readers do not record information about owners, pictures of vehicle occupants, or the make/model of the vehicle. Chief Spencer emphasized that this pilot project “will be open and transparent to ensure community acceptance and approval.”
Chief Spencer’s presentation followed his August 23, 2018 presentation to the public, and a July 10, 2018 work session discussion led by Hamid Khaleghipour, Addison’s Executive Director of Business Performance and Innovation. Mr. Khaleghipour referenced the Town’s intent to draft a “video surveillance/data collection policy to address requirements and responsibilities,” including with respect to storage of, access to and the use of the information obtained by the cameras. During the September 11, 2018 meeting, Chief Spencer indicated that the Town was obtaining copies of policies enacted by other communities to aid Addison in drafting its policy. At the council’s October 23, 2018 meeting, the council approved a contract for the development and installation of the technology for the pilot program.
My neighbors and I have first-hand experience regarding the role of technology in solving crimes. Earlier this year, I sat through the trial of the individual who stole my neighbor’s vehicle from their garage in May 2017 at about 3:30 a.m. The perpetrator was convicted of this felony because my neighbors had installed cameras that caught him lurking around their house. The perpetrator then admitted to being the person in the videos during a recorded jailhouse phone call. Technology handed this perpetrator his 14th felony conviction, and gave our neighborhood the comfort of knowing that he was being sent away for a long time.
Addison’s council would be remiss if it did not pursue the use of technology as a crime-solving tool. Indeed, one of the seven strategic pillars identified by the Council on July 11, 2017 was: “Maximize the use of cutting [edge] technology to improve Addison’s Public Safety Mission.”
Despite the obvious benefits of technology, and the clear sensitivity of the Town to legitimate privacy concerns, which will (and must) be addressed in the policy on which the staff is currently working, the naysayers and negatives have chosen this pilot project as their latest issue-of-the-moment. The tactics are familiar: pick an issue, claim that “people have been asking” about it, mischaracterize the facts, claim that the sky is falling, attack those currently in office for their alleged mismanagement of the issue, then claim that they and they alone possess the knowledge, information and ability to solve the issue. The timing is also familiar, as filings for the May 2019 election will open in a couple of months. For these folks, it’s time to once again try to sow the seeds of dissension. Luckily, Addison residents have become wise to these tactics.
Here’s the thing. This negative approach to issues facing our Town has never been appropriate and most importantly, it has never worked. Creating controversy and division causes problems and it is not a good strategy for improving our community. Sniping from the weeds serves no constructive purpose. Instead, this kind of conduct damages our community and sets us back. It is a poor leadership model. The truth is that Addison isn’t helped by people who create problems. Rather, Addison advances when we work together to address issues and solve problems.
All of which leads me to suggest that if any resident of Addison believes they have knowledge that will help Addison address an issue, advance Addison’s interests or solve problems, then they should come forward and be a positive part of the process. That’s what’s best for our community. Indeed, this approach is precisely what defines our current councilmembers. They are democracy in action: seven people with different perspectives and skills, working together to address issues, advance the interests of Addison, and solve problems through a constructive deliberative process. We have seen the results as they dig Addison out of problems and issues. The current council settled the wind turbine lawsuit on favorable terms. They resolved the creek dispute that had lingered for far too long (including the entire tenure of the ex-mayor). They succeeded in finally obtaining a commitment from DART to build the rail line that was promised for years. And they’ve done all this and more without fanfare, without staged drama, without unnecessarily prolonged meetings, without seeking personal aggrandizement, and without dividing our community. They’re just working. For us. For Addison. It’s democracy. TRUE democracy.
So, let’s talk briefly about the license plate readers. First, the assertion that there is no policy in place is grossly misleading. This is a pilot project. By definition, it’s new. The staff is working on establishing policies and procedures, and is planning to bring their proposal to the council in January 2019. There is NO intention of “going live” without policies in place. The author of recent posts and a blast email was told exactly that in an email from the City Manager dated November 12, 2018 (11:22 a.m.), but proceeded with the misinformation anyway, including by falsely stating that the council “hasn’t done anything to question this.” What nonsense.
It’s all just more of the same. And the timing of it indicates that these folks may intend to run a slate of candidates for office next year (“slates” seem to be their practice). If they do, expect them to claim that “people have been asking them” to run or that “people are concerned” about some predictably concocted issue. They’ll probably make their usual empty claims about transparency, despite their established track record of misleading rhetoric and concealment of information (go back and review my articles about Kanter and the withheld Lea Dunn memo for a taste of their past practices and appalling lack of transparency).
In the meantime, kudos to the current council for tackling all these issues and for initiating this new program. Today’s technology unquestionably raises important privacy issues even as it clearly helps law enforcement to solve crimes, as it did with the Boston Marathon bombing and with the theft of my neighbors’ vehicle. Addison needs to responsibly address those issues, and we all need to consider them and make sure to contact the City Manager, the Mayor and/or our councilmembers with any comments, concerns or suggestions. Let’s be a positive part of an important discussion.
And let’s discourage folks from sniping from the weeds. Better yet, let’s ignore them. We don’t need that kind of conduct. Nor do we need efforts to cause alarm needlessly, including by spreading misinformation. We must continue to move Addison forward, and to do that, we cannot allow the negatives and naysayers to bring our community down with their griping and negative messages. This pilot program is new and unique. If these folks have something to say, let them be a positive and constructive part of the process.
And lastly, if any of you received the unsolicited email and have questions about how the sender got your email address, please let the City Manager or a member of the council know about it. I’m very curious about the use of certain email addresses, and how the sender gained access to them, particularly given all the past events that occurred in connection with Addison’s email list.