Dayton approves funding for police body cameras, license plate reader technology

Dayton police supervisors are expected to routinely review video footage from body-worn cameras. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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Dayton police supervisors are expected to routinely review video footage from body-worn cameras. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The city of Dayton has approved funding to purchase the police department body-worn cameras and new equipment to expand its automated license plate reader program.

Many community members say body-worn cameras can improve transparency, accountability and trust in law enforcement, while also providing additional evidence to assist with criminal prosecution.

The Dayton Police Department also has received authorization to buy new automated license plate readers for 120 of its marked police cruisers, and police also plan to install fixed license plate readers at certain locations across the city.

However, police and city officials say the devices will not be activated until city leaders approve parameters for vetting new surveillance technology.

Some citizens and advocacy groups say they are worried that without proper oversight license plate readers can track and monitor people’s movements and whereabouts and the data can be misused.

“It’s too great of an opportunity for mistakes to happen, potentially,” said Jennie Valdez, vice chair with Latinos Unidos in Dayton, which recently helped host an online discussion about police surveillance, transparency and accountability. “Another thing we are very concerned about is the data that is collected and where it’s going, who is storing it and who it is being shared with.”

But Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph said the commission recognizes community members have valid concerns about privacy and data, and the city is working to craft and pass legislation that clearly defines a new process for reviewing and approving surveillance technology.

Joseph said the city will strengthen its rules around data collection from new equipment and the city will work to notify, educate and gather feedback from the community about new proposed technology.

“These (license plate readers) will still need to go through the public notification and comment process before they are placed into service,” Joseph said.

ExploreHere’s why Dayton plans audits of police body-camera video
Police investigating after caller reports a person being shot on an RTA bus in Dayton on January 5, 2021.
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Police investigating after caller reports a person being shot on an RTA bus in Dayton on January 5, 2021.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

This week, the Dayton City Commission approved amending its existing contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. to add body-worn camera technology and upgrade police cruisers’ video camera systems.

The modifications increase the city’s contract with Axon by about $822,500 through the end of 2023.

The police department will buy 240 Axon Body 3 body worn cameras for primary use, as well as eight spare cameras, according to city documents. The department also is purchasing charging docks and 240 signal sidearm devices.

Signal sidearm devices automatically activate body-worn cameras when officers unholster their weapons.

The city says it expects to receive the equipment by the end of February.

Members of a police reform committee focused on use-of-force recommended the city acquire cameras for officers to improve confidence and faith in law enforcement. Some community members and city leaders say cameras should help improve interactions between officers and citizens and the safety of both parties.

“Body-worn cameras bolster accountability, the cameras will be able to showcase the interactions between all parties involved which will then hold everyone accountable for their actions, and I believe that with accountability comes trust,” said Willis Blackshear Jr., co-lead of the use-of-force police reform group.

ExploreDayton police reform: Committee wants city to buy body cameras
One person was taken into custody Jan. 8, 2021, following a nearly two-hour police standoff in the 200 block of Alaska Street in Dayton. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF
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One person was taken into custody Jan. 8, 2021, following a nearly two-hour police standoff in the 200 block of Alaska Street in Dayton. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF

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Credit:

The police department also is purchasing 240 Axon Fleet 3 cameras, or two per marked police vehicle, city documents state.

Axon says the cameras offer automated license plate reader capabilities, with eight times more plate reads than traditional camera systems.

The company also says its automated license plate readers can read multiples lanes of traffic simultaneously.

License plate readers scan license plates and run them against national and state databases and then alert police if the plates belong to a stolen vehicle or if the vehicles or the owners are wanted in connection to a crime, said Dayton police Major Paul Saunders, who is the department’s chief of staff.

The police department has used license plate readers for more than 10 years, Saunders said, and it currently has four “older-style” readers.

The Dayton Police Department plans to expand its in-car license plate reader program but it also wants to pursue a fixed-site program as well, Saunders said.

The new Axon 3 automated readers are expected to be rolled out sometime mid-year, Saunders said, but they will not be activated until city leaders approve some “parameters” around technology procurements.

Police investigating after caller reports a person being shot on an RTA bus in Dayton on January 5, 2021.
Caption
Police investigating after caller reports a person being shot on an RTA bus in Dayton on January 5, 2021.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

The city of Dayton is working to create a new process of vetting technology purchases, which will include input from neighborhood association leaders, Saunders said, and the city’s law department is developing legislation that spells out how technology purchases should be reviewed and approved.

Some citizens and civil rights groups have raised privacy concerns about license plate readers, claiming law enforcement agencies are collecting and storing vast amounts of records and data about innocent drivers.

License plate readers, especially combined with other surveillance technology, potentially can track community members, allowing law enforcement to monitor which individuals are attending protests, worshiping at certain churches or mosques, visiting gun shops or participating in political events or activities, said Gary Daniels, lobbyist with the ACLU of Ohio.

“Where I suspect that abuse could be most problematic is sharing that data with the federal government,” like immigration enforcement, Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other agencies, he said.

Local or state lawmakers need to pass legislation that dictates how long data from the readers are retained and what it can be used for, Daniels said.

Valdez said she is worried that police will put fixed licensed plate readers in low-income areas where many people of color live or officers might only activate their in-car readers in certain parts of the city. She said other communities have seen this happen.

But Valdez said a local coalition of community groups that includes Latinos Unidos is working with the city to craft legislation that hopefully will provide future oversight of law enforcement surveillance technologies.

“We strongly feel we need to have something governing these technologies,” Valdez said. “If we have a well-written ordinance in place, that could take care of potential issues that could arise.”

She said, “I feel the city is listening and genuinely wants to work with us.”

Saunders said investigators can use license plate readers to search for vehicles in the vicinity of where crimes take place. He said the police department has secured grant funding for fixed-site license plate readers.

“The LPR system is not a live surveillance tracking system,” he said. “It alerts on specific flags or queries.”

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