City leaders are reviewing a proposal that would outline new rules for agencies around surveillance methods, including unmanned aerial devices, license plate readers, body cameras and other tools.
(TNS) — Hartford Police Chief David Rosado is questioning a city council proposal to oversee the use of drones and other technology by law enforcement.
With police planning to deploy drones throughout Hartford neighborhoods, the council wants a say over what equipment, monitoring and data retention officers use. Under a proposal that the American Civil Liberties Union helped draft, city agencies would need permission for all current and new methods of surveillance, including unmanned aerial devices, license plate readers, body cameras, video and audio recording systems, facial and voice recognition software and gunshot detection hardware.
“This ordinance, as currently presented, would significantly slow our progress in utilizing new technology to enhance public safety,” Police Chief David Rosado said. “We have and we will continue to work with city council members and other stakeholders as we try to come to a consensus on how best to move forward.”
The agencies would have to submit reports highlighting the technologies’ impact and must disclose policies governing their use.
The measure has already aroused frustration in law enforcement circles because of the extent of surveillance in Hartford.
Police officials estimated there were at least 30 programs, some with hundreds of individual pieces. More than 900 cameras have been strategically placed throughout the city, and authorities are in the process of adding another 210. Two drones have been ordered. And 325 officers will don body cameras beginning later this year.
The council measure requires police to seek approval for all existing programs within 120 days. Council members then have 180 days to make a decision. If no decision is made, police must halt their use of the technology.
City leaders who reviewed the proposal said it is unclear whether entire programs could be submitted, or if the surveillance items would have to be offered piecemeal. Each request would go to a public hearing before a vote is taken.
“Whether we’re trying to get dangerous ATVs and dirt bikes off our roads, take illegal guns off the street or protect public safety during large events like the marathon, new technology gives us valuable tools,” Mayor Luke Bronin said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring there are appropriate policies in place to protect privacy, and we’ve also heard loud and clear from many residents and neighborhood groups who have urged us to put technology to use.”
Howard Rifkin, the city’s top attorney, said he is reviewing the proposal.
The desire for safeguards and oversight on surveillance programs intensified last year after police said they intended to purchase a pair of drones. The devices will be used to pursue stolen vehicles and fleeing suspects, to locate illegal ATVs and to watch for terrorist activity at major events like concerts or the Hartford Marathon.
The fire department also plans to buy a drone for search and rescue missions and to help firefighters gauge heat signatures along roof lines.
But concerns about privacy have mounted. Skeptics fear the devices will have a chilling effect on protests and that they could undermine Hartford’s reputation as a welcoming city for immigrants.
Proponents of the council’s measure say it is meant to boost transparency and encourage public input. While both the police and fire departments have come up with policies governing drone use, council members said they want the residents to offer feedback.
“We’re talking about community policing and community input; this is a good way to be able to have those conversations that are needed,” Council Minority Leader Wildaliz Bermudez said.
Bermudez had introduced another ordinance last winter banning the weaponization of drones and restricting the amount of time surveillance tape may kept. That proposal has stalled, and Bermudez said the latest measure would replace it.
David McGuire, head of the ACLU in Connecticut, said other municipalities have some oversight on police technology, but he was not aware of any city or town with such a broad ordinance.
Councilman Thomas “TJ” Clarke II said the plan would be weighed carefully and adjustments may be made to the rules or deadlines imposed.
“This is still up for discussion,” he said. “We will have to see how impactful or cumbersome it will be.”
A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for Nov. 19 at city hall.
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