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City Council to consider surveillance at public sites

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The Sacramento County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is raising concerns that the city’s plans to use surveillance cameras in public locations would intimidate participants in peaceful protests and create potential for racial profiling. On Tuesday, the City Council will decide whether to approve a $615,000 in federal grant that would be used to install security cameras and related equipment at various sites in the city.

The Sacramento County ACLU chapter has fought with the city for months over the planned purchase. City and police officials have said previously that the city plans to combat crime with a surveillance package consisting of 32 security cameras, four mobile surveillance trailers, and other related technology. The state was issued the money from the Department of Homeland Security.

Sites for the cameras have not yet been chosen. However, Mayor Kevin Johnson said in April that K Street and Regional Transit stations are the kinds of high-traffic and high-crime areas that might be furnished with the equipment.

Johnson supports the surveillance package, saying that it will help cut crime.

“I fought for the money and got it,” he said in a Monday press release. “Public safety is a top priority for my administration, and I will use every tool to help reduce crime in our city."

Jim Updegraff, chair of the Sacramento County ACLU chapter, told The Sacramento Press, that the City Council should delay the vote on the cameras because citizens do not yet have enough information about the proposed surveillance system.

The cameras represent an “intrusive invasion of privacy,” he said, and the city needs to do more to inform citizens of the ramifications of the surveillance system.

He also said Monday that the mobile surveillance trailers, if employed during demonstrations, might intimidate protesters. Updegraff further said the city has not explained if it will share its surveillance images — including images of protesters — with Homeland Security personnel.

In addition, Updegraff alleged that the cameras could be used as a form of racial profiling. For example, there is a possibility that police could respond to surveillance images of young African-American men standing around, he alleged.

The ACLU will make the public aware of the surveillance package, but does not plan to file a lawsuit over the issue, Updegraff said.

Meanwhile, Sacramento Police Department spokesman Norm Leong defends the surveillance package, saying that the department regularly uses surveillance footage taken by residents and businesses to solve crimes.

“It’s worked thus far,” he said.

Responding to Updegraff’s argument about surveillance at demonstrations, Leong said that police officers already monitor major demonstrations for public safety reasons. The mobile surveillance trailers will be used to provide a better view of the size of crowds and potential problems, he said.

Leong also disagreed with Updegraff’s suspicions about potential racial profiling. The cameras will primarily be used to produce footage that could be used as evidence, he said. The images would be used as evidence after a crime has been reported, he explained. Police would actively monitor a camera only in certain situations such as during a narcotics or decoy operation, Leong noted. He added that the cameras will not be used to target individuals and will not be monitored constantly by police officers.

Leong said he did not think the department has made a decision yet on sharing footage with other agencies.

The city’s report on the surveillance package can be read here.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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