Police board sets new rules for how LAPD uses surveillance technology

The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday passed new rules on how police can use crime-fighting technology, despite opposition from advocacy groups who said they could lead to increased surveillance of people.

Under the new policy, the LAPD must submit a detailed proposal to the commission before deploying a particular type of technology, which specifies whether data will be collected about people and how long it will be retained, any harm to life private and civil rights and what safeguards are in place to guard against abuse.

Before voting to approve or reject them, the commission will discuss the proposals in public, giving people the opportunity to participate in an “informed” debate about their use, said Lizabeth Rhodes, director of the Office of Policing and Policy. Constitutional Laws of the LAPD, to the commissioners of the panel meeting.

The policy, which the committee unanimously approved, applies to electronic tools currently in use but not to “court-approved technologies,” such as wiretaps or GPS tracking devices, Rhodes said. Department officials will train officers on a technology’s capabilities and limitations and will be required to report annually to the commission on its compliance with policy, Rhodes told the panel.

The department was already following similar guidelines for two controversial technologies and hardware — drones and facial recognition software, Rhodes said.

Supporters called the move a major step by the department toward accountability and oversight, amid an ongoing national debate over law enforcement’s use of technology. Police argue they need new tools to track criminals in an increasingly interconnected world, while civil liberties and privacy rights advocates argue that facial recognition software and other products can be intrusive and biased.

On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to adopt the new policy. But not before several critics denounced the decision during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said similar policies in the past gave a veneer of legitimacy to police practices but ultimately failed to quell abuses. Such rules, he added, have been used in the past to give the department political cover to expand its surveillance capabilities.

“It sets the tone and gives them a free license,” Khan, who also called in the meeting, said in an earlier interview.

Khan pointed to the since-dismantled predictive policing initiatives that disproportionately targeted black and Latino communities, as well as the department’s failure to disclose its longstanding use of facial recognition software.

In January 2021, the commission imposed new rules for the department’s use of facial recognition software, following a Times report that found officers had used the technology 32,000 times over the years. , despite the denials of the department.

Current policy allows LAPD detectives and other trained officers to use a single software platform operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which compares a suspect’s image only to mugshots – a much less extensive research than products built by for-profit companies such as Clearview AI offer.

An internal LAPD investigation found that a handful of detectives had used the controversial Clearview software, which claims a database of three billion photos of people pulled from the internet.

The guidelines passed Tuesday also mandate new measures to track the LAPD’s use of the county’s facial recognition system, but the commission rejected an outright ban on the technology sought by many activists.

Khan also criticized what he saw as the commission’s lack of outreach to historically disenfranchised communities that he said would bear the brunt of increased police oversight.

Mohammad Tajsar, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said the civil rights organization initially supported the creation of civilian-led councils to oversee police technology, but has since changed its position. In a letter to the Commission, the ACLU joined groups like Stop LAPD Spying and local Black Lives Matter in opposing the creation of a tech watchdog modeled after a similar body in Oakland. .

“The problem is that these technologies are so invasive, they’re so dangerous and put into the hands of this particular department, they’re so problematic, that there aren’t any sort of rules or criteria that will significantly limit the character invasive and the danger of these technologies,” Tajsar said in a previous interview.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Eileen Decker said she was confident the policy will provide ongoing oversight of the department’s use of technology.

The only commissioner to express hesitation at Tuesday’s meeting was Dale Bonner, who pressed the department on whether the exceptions made for certain court-ordered technologies were too broad. His concern, he said, was that “we’ll find out that the ministry is using something that bothers us and the answer will be that three years ago a court ordered us to do something and that’s the technology we use”. using.’ ”

LAPD Chief Michel Moore responded that the safeguards are among the strongest in the country. “I think it’s justified, it’s necessary and it’s valuable in building public confidence,” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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