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A New Kind of Police Surveillance

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 90 percent of local police forces in the United States are using some sort of technological surveillance as of 2013.  This surveillance equipment includes primarily video cameras, but departments are also deploying license plate scanners, drones, and gunshot detection systems.  In many instances, communities are not even aware of how closely they are being watched by authorities, or how this surveillance implicates their civil rights.  Now, according to a story from the Washington Post, police in Fresno, California, have a new tool – a computer program called Beware that uses data analysis to offer an assessment of the threat posed by every 911 call.

The Real Time Crime Center

Inside Fresno’s state-of-the-art facility known as the Real Time Crime Center, local police have access to:

  • 200 police video cameras posted throughout the city;
  • 800 video feeds from school and traffic cameras;
  • a private database containing more than two billion scans of license plates and locations nationwide;
  • the ShotSpotter system, which uses microphones throughout the city to triangulate the locations of gunshots; and
  • the Media Sonar program, which scans social media to track individuals, school threats and gang-related hashtags.

To all this information police hope to add 400 more video streams from police body cameras and local businesses’ security systems.  And now they have the program known as Beware.

Beware surveillance

According to the Post story, the Beware software assesses the threat level posed to responders by a 911 call through analyzing data including arrest reports, Web searches, property records, and social media postings.  When a 911 call comes in, Beware runs the address to obtains the names of the residents, and returns a threat assessment for each person, as well as an assessment of the address itself.  These assessments take the form of a color-coded threat level: green, yellow, or red.  Only the company that makes the software knows how the threat level is derived.

Proponents of the Beware system say it gives police some insight about what they might be walking into when they respond to a 911 call.  They argue that the threat levels do not provoke a particular police response, but simply provide information useful to officers on scene.  Critics of the software, however, cite its potential for privacy intrusion and abuse.  They argue that the system could overreact to innocent social media posts critical of the police, and should be subject to regulation and oversight.   The Fresno City Council recently held a hearing to examine Beware and its use.

Consult an Orlando civil rights and criminal defense lawyer

If you believe your civil rights have been violated by police surveillance, or you are facing criminal charges, a skilled attorney is a valuable ally.  The experienced civil rights and criminal defense attorneys of The Baez Law Firm have the knowledge and determination to fight for your legal rights in Orlando, Tampa, Miami, and throughout the state.  Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation without delay.

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