PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD
The city's Real Time Crime Monitoring Center oversees a citywide crime camera network.
Following the city's unveiling of a crime camera monitoring station on the edge of the French Quarter, the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor (IPM) has warned the New Orleans City Council of the city's sweeping surveillance program's "potential for mismanagement, poor information security, public records law compliance challenges and user abuse."
This month, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city officials debuted the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center on Rampart Street, serving as the nerve center for a planned network of dozens of city-owned crime cameras, with plans to add street-facing crime camera feeds from nearly every bar and restaurant and many private homes — all part of a multi-million dollar crime prevention program announced in January.
Though the plan greatly expands the city's surveillance footprint, which the city says will reduce crime and the time it takes to find suspects, acting police monitor Ursula Price writes in a Nov. 28
letter that the plan presents a number of "high-level risks" and seemingly "does not earmark resources or personnel to monitor the implementation of the plan."
The IPM recommends the City Council consider public meetings on the cameras' use and discuss how the city plans to monitor surveillance efforts and data collection. "A failure to build in monitoring and oversight may expose the City of New Orleans to a civil liability risk," the letter says. "In the event that evidence in these systems is used for prosecution, these systems could also present a risk unconstitutional criminal justice practices as well."
The IPM points to several surveillance scenarios ripe for abuse, including an "improper focus on a person’s body," "disparate racial impact," and the "detention and improper release of images," as well as the risks posed by insecure networks and systems storing sensitive data and the potential for "fiscal waste" that New Orleans already endured under Mark St. Pierre and former Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert's crime camera plan.
"Over a period of seven years, the crime camera network yielded only six indictments," the letter says. "Without an adequate oversight system, taxpayers could bear the financial brunt of another private sector corruption scandal."
The IPM recommends six steps to include in the city's surveillance plan:
- Prohibit magnification of an individual’s face without reasonable suspicion or threat to public safety and monitor compliance.
- Prohibit aiming the camera at an individual’s or group's activity without reasonable suspicion or threat to public safety and monitor compliance.
- Require camera operators to adhere to the same 4th Amendment-informed [New Orleans Police Department] policies regarding reasonable suspicion and monitor compliance.
- Prohibit pointing cameras into private homes and monitor compliance.
- Balance the need for public information against public privacy when setting rules on dissemination and duration of image retention and monitor compliance.
- Monitor NOPD to ensure consistent enforcement of camera policies and discipline those who violate policy.
- Private cameras linked to the command center feeds must follow the same rules and regulations as public cameras.
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO) raised similar concerns when the plan was unveiled in January. In a statement that month
, the group wrote that the plan is "largely a blueprint for unconstitutional surveillance and cultural commodification. It seems poorly conceived, reactionary, and intentionally ambiguous. Long term impacts have not been taken into account, and there has been no public input, except for individuals who were hand picked by the plan’s architects."
In a statement to WWL-TV
, Landrieu's Communications Director Tyronne Walker says the City Attorney's office "has been involved in the development of the camera monitoring program, and the NOPD will ensure constitutional policing in its administration of the program."
"The administration will continue to increase the tools at the disposal of our police and homeland security officials to prevent and respond to violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer," Walker said. "In the week since activation, the real-time crime center has already yielded results — leading to quicker arrests, more efficient investigations, and a safer city."