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Cleveland Community Police Commission calls for more transparency, oversight of surveillance tech

Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Trainees and an instructor flying a drone at Cuyahoga County Community College's police officer training facility in Parma.

The Cleveland Community Police Commission [CPC] is calling for more transparency and oversight of the police department’s growing use of surveillance technology.

The CPC is a 13-member advisory body set up by the 2015 consent decree. Mayor Justin Bibb's administration ended the application period Monday for the new, strengthened CPC approved by voters last year. Once the new commissioners are selected and approved by council, the new CPC will have final say over police policies, including the use of surveillance technology.

In a report released Monday, the CPC recommended the Cleveland Division of Police [CDP] first disclose all of the surveillance technology it uses. Next, the report asks CDP to create policies, known as General Police Orders, to control how that technology is used.

“Police lawful use of surveillance falls under the umbrella of the 4th Amendment,” the report’s authors wrote. “Based on the Consent Decree and taking into account the history of surveillance technology and how it has been misused by police, particularly against Black citizens advocating for equal civil rights, the CPC took up this important issue.”

Gordon Friedman, the chair of the CPC committee that created the report, said the city should be listening to community members and experts.

“Not to say that cities, Cleveland included, should not be able to take advantage of modern technologies,” Friedman said. “What we do want is an intermediary body that reviews proposed technologies.”

Over the last few years, Cleveland has installed more than a thousand new cameras citywide and established a Real Time Crime Center where the city’s surveillance footage is monitored 12 hours a day.

The city is also seeking to launch an unmanned drone program and potentially expand its use of the gunshot detection technology Shotspotter. Police in the 4th District have run a Shotspotter pilot program since 2020.

At a recent council meeting, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Froilan C. Roy Fernando seemed to indicate the city had access to facial recognition technology in the software it uses to process surveillance camera video.

City officials have denied that description of the city’s capabilities, though it does have two contracts with video processing providers that offer facial recognition in their law enforcement products.

The CPC’s Friedman said facial recognition is particularly problematic because it’s capable of tracking individuals' movements throughout a city and has a history of accuracy issues.

“I don’t think the city or the police department should just implement many forms of modern technology without getting the consent of the public,” Friedman said.

The CPC report also calls on the city to create a permanent committee that would oversee the city’s adoption and use of new surveillance technology.

The proposed committee is modeled after one in Oakland, California, called the Privacy Advisory Commission that advised the city on privacy best practices prior to the city purchasing and deploying surveillance technology.

“Public input is necessary to ensure that the people trust the police with any new technology,” the CPC authors wrote. “Research has shown that the public trust in the police will lead to their support of new police technology.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.