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Village Council

Village Council — Surveillance policy passed

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New surveillance technologies are rapidly being adopted by law enforcement agencies around the country — everything from automatic license plate readers to cameras equipped with facial recognition to social media monitoring software.

But in Yellow Springs, any new surveillance technology the police department or other municipal agency wants to use must first be approved by Council at a public hearing, according to legislation Council considered at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Candidates vie for seat

Six local residents have applied for the Council seat to be vacated by Judith Hempfling at the end of November.
The candidates are:

Gerry Simms, who served two three-year terms as a Council member and stated in a letter that he would not seek election once the term ends;

Andrea Carr, a local certified nurse midwife who grew up in the village and recently returned with her family;

Dino Pallotta, owner of Dino’s Cappuccinos, who has run the business for the last 20 years;

Dan Reyes, a local architect and college professor who ran for Council in 2011 and 2013;

Kineta Sanford, an AmericaCorps VISTA employee at Home, Inc., who recently moved to town and whose parents have long been involved in the community;

Leo Brandon III, a 2017 Antioch College graduate and current event coordinator at Mills Park Hotel. 

The new member is to be be approved by a majority of Council at its Dec. 3 meeting, and would serve through the end of 2019. Candidates will give short speeches at Council’s Dec. 3 meeting ahead of Council’s vote. An election for the seat will be held in November 2019.

Interviews with the candidates will be in next week’s News.

Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that increases transparency, accountability and oversight of the use of new surveillance technologies, which can negatively impact civil rights and civil liberities, the ordinance notes.

Ellis Jacobs, a local civil rights attorney, helped draft the measure as part of a Justice System Task Force subcommittee. He summarized its potential impact ahead of the vote.

“If you pass this, people in Yellow Springs will never be surprised that the police department has adopted surveillance technology without them knowing about it,” Jacobs said. 

Village Solicitor Chris Conard, who was also involved in preparing the measure, told Council that the pioneering legislation affirms citizen rights during a technological revolution on par with the industrial revolution.

“This legislation is designed to take a first step and really lead the way to say we  … have constitutional protections, we have rights, and we want to know, affirmatively, that those rights are going to be protected in some way,” Conard said.

A few surveillance technologies now in use are exempted from the policy, however, Council members noted. Those include police cruiser cameras, utility meters (as long as they are only used for billing) and the closed-circuit cameras monitoring Village-owned buildings such as the Bryan Center.

The way those technologies are used are governed by the Village’s General Orders Manual, according to Village Manager Patti Bates at the meeting.

In addition, if a state of emergency is declared, surveillance technologies can be used for up to 96 hours without Council approval, according to the ordinance.

The law does not apply to outside law enforcement agencies, Jacobs noted.

“There is nothing that limits outside law enforcement active in the village from using whatever they want,” he said. 

In a procedure laid out in the ordinance, if police or another local government department wanted to purchase a new surveillance technology, they would have to present the matter to Council so it could weigh the benefits of the technologies with its costs. The public would also have an opportunity to weigh in through a public hearing at a Council meeting. 

Council would consider a proposed surveillance use policy specifying the purpose of the technology and how adverse impacts would be guarded against. The agency would also be required to submit an annual report on how the technology was being used. 

Other new surveillance technologies  identified at Council’s August meeting and in an American Civil Liberties Union handout included stingrays, devices that mimic cell phone communications towers and can intercept data and location information from a person’s cell phone; drones equipped with cameras and microphones; automatic license plate readers, which take photographs of car license plates from a fixed location and can store them for long periods of time; body cameras, including those equipped with facial recognition, and more.

In a Nov. 5 letter to Council, representatives from the ACLU of Ohio encouraged Council to pass the legislation. 

The letter cited the fast spread of tools and technologies used by law enforcement “with little or no public knowledge and no consideration or discussion on its actual or potential effects on constitutional and civil rights.”

“Many are rightly concerned about government surveillance on a broad scale,” the letter noted. 

Council will hold a public hearing on the legislation at its Nov. 19 meeting, ahead of a second reading of the ordinance.

Interviews with the candidates for the vacated Council seat and other items from Council’s Nov. 5 agenda will be in next week’s News.

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