Springfield, Mass., Puts Off Facial Recognition Vote

The Springfield City Council has long debated police use of facial recognition, but it was unable to reach a consensus on a proposal to block the department from incorporating such technology into its duties.

by Peter Goonan, MassLive.com / February 4, 2020
Springfield City Councilor Orlando Ramos speaks Monday during a debate at City Hall on facial recognition technology. TNS

(TNS) — After months of discussion and more than two hours of debate Monday night, the City Council was unable to reach agreement on a proposed moratorium intended to block the Police Department from the use of facial recognition technology.

Instead, the council decided to continue the issue Monday rather than push for a vote on the moratorium that was facing a veto threat from Mayor Domenic J. Sarno. A five-year moratorium was proposed.

Council President Justin Hurst said he will call a special meeting of the council to consider a vote solely on the facial recognition issue. On Monday, the proposal was among 47 items on the council agenda.

The council was “clearly not ready for a vote” on the moratorium Monday, Councilor Timothy J. Allen said. The vote to continue the matter was approved by an 8-5 vote. Opponents to the continuance said the delay just drags out the discussion further.

Those supporting a moratorium, including lead sponsors Councilors Orlando Ramos and Adam Gomez, said the facial recognition technology is not proven, nor regulated, and can be inaccurate and lead to false identifications. They said that studies show the technology has been especially problematic in misidentifying women and/or people of color.

Ramos also raised concerns about “millions of dollars of taxpayer lawsuits” that could be filed against the city for false identifications in criminal cases.

Some councilors believe the technology should be investigated, or believe a shorter moratorium should be considered. Councilor Michael Fenton suggested a six-month moratorium, which could be extended.

In January, the council gave first-step approval to the moratorium by a 9-3 vote.

Sarno, in promising to veto the moratorium, questioned why the council would “consider taking away such a valuable option that can take and keep violent repeat criminal offenders, such as murderers, rapists, gun toting drug dealers and gangbangers off our streets, out of our neighborhoods and bring justice to the affected families and/or proactively help deter and prevent crime from happening?”

“When fingerprint and DNA technology came about we all heard the same from critics,” Sarno said in a prepared release.

Councilor Victor Davila called for one amendment to the ordinance so that any technology that could be used in finding missing people would not be blocked by the moratorium.

Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood told councilors that facial recognition technology is not being used or pursued at this time, and she would support going to the council regarding any future plans.

©2020 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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