The problem is, the department is morally and ethically corrupt. Fire the chief and bring in some one from outside the system, then things will change
"Go ahead, say one more fucking thing"
Fairfax County Police Reform: More to Be Done
Five years after an officer shot and killed John Geer in Springfield, Implementation Group offers look at successful reforms, and recommends action in other areas.
By Ken Moore
Monday, October 15, 2018
Despite police departments not being “known for embracing change,” said Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, “we’ve seen Fairfax County and its Police Department achieve substantial and meaningful reform.”
Since the county’s Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission formed after a county officer shot and killed John Geer in 2013, the county has implemented 88 percent (179 of 202) of the actions recommended by the Commission.
“The report of the commission could have remained on the shelf since its release three years ago,” said Niedzielski-Eichner, chair.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova encouraged seven commission members to continue to assist and advise the county and police department as commission recommendations were assessed and implemented.
The informal implementation group issued a Final Report on Fairfax County Police Reform on Oct. 10. The report was undertaken by the group on its own initiative, believing that the community might benefit from an independent discussion of progress.
POLICE REFORMS will increase police accountability, divert those with mental illnesses into treatment instead of incarceration, reduce use of force injuries and death, open public access to incident information, and maintain public confidence in the police department, according to the Implementation Group.
Implemented highlights, according to the FInal Report, issued last week, include:
Diversion First, alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities
Revisions to the police department’s Use of Force General Order, with de-escalation as the strategy of first resort when confronted with a threat rather than the use of deadly force
An Independent Police Auditor who reviews investigations of death or serious injury cases
A Civilian Review Panel to review investigations of civilian complaints regarding “abuse of authority” or “serious misconduct” by an officer
A Media Relations Bureau led by a civilian professional who reports directly to the Police Chief
A predisposition to disclose information by making revisions to information-related general orders in order to increase public visibility of the department’s daily activities and performance,
Revisions to policies governing vehicle pursuit that constrains their use and strengthens supervisory oversight
Recruitment of high-caliber personnel that reflects the county’s diverse population
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS have been approved, but are still in the process of being implemented, including a call for full deployment of body-worn cameras and each patrol officer being equipped with “tasers” as less-lethal alternatives to the use of a firearm,.
“Still, we believe more is possible to further build and maintain community trust,” said Niedzielski-Eichner.
The Implementation Group recommends the Board of Supervisors direct the police department to formally respond to findings of an Independent Police Auditor and a Civilian Panel, and to give the public an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations. As the group understands, the Chief of Police has chosen not to respond because the Board of Supervisors did not specifically direct him to do so.
The Chief of Police and his command leadership should maintain a “neutral public posture pending an investigation of a police-involved use of force incident,” the report recommends.
THE INDEPENDENT POLICE Auditor’s responsibilities could expand in several areas. The implementation group advocates for: monitoring and reviewing investigations of Sheriff Deputies involved in shootings, in-custody deaths, and any use of force incident resulting in serious injury or death; auditing police use of body worn cameras, providing an annual report to the Board and the public with findings and recommendations; and participation on two internal police review committees, the Use of Force Technical Review Committee and the Vehicle Pursuit Review Committee.
“The Implementation Group urges Chief Roessler and his commanders to sustain FCPD’s reform efforts and, in particular, to unfailingly meet the ‘predisposition to release information’ standard with regard to openness and transparency, and to commit to respond to findings from the Independent Police Auditor and the Civilian Review Panel.”
The report also calls for a data-driven monitoring program that fully leverages data on police use-of-force and other data now being collected in response to the Commission’s recommendations.
Continued public involvement will be key to continuing to build trust with the community, the report says.
“Continued successes and improvements will depend on Chief Roessler, his commanders and continued meaningful collaboration with citizens engaged in implementation,” said group member Randy Sayles.
The Fairfax County police will hold this off as long as they can and then find an excuse not to use them...watch and see
"Go ahead, say one more fucking thing"
Police body cameras closer to implementation in Fairfax Co.
By Max Smith | @amaxsmith
October 16, 2018 2:03 pm
WASHINGTON — Fairfax County police expect to have initial results of a body camera pilot within a few weeks, Chief Ed Roessler said Tuesday.
A draft of the American University study is due for discussion before Thanksgiving, Roessler told the Board of Supervisors.
“All of our findings as far as the operation, the administration, data storage and a scope of projected cost” would then be presented this winter, Roessler said.
Initial reviews are positive according to supervisors, and Chairman Sharon Bulova expects body cameras will be rolled out county wide in the relatively near future.
“I think it’s not a question of if we’re going to do it, I think it’s a matter of implementing it in a way that is smart, … cost effective and essentially is most effective in our community, so I think there’s no question, at least that’s my sense from the board,” Bulova said.
The issue came up during a discussion about whether the county remains on the right track for changes recommended by an advisory commission formed in the wake of John Geer’s death in 2013. Geer was shot by a police officer who was eventually sentenced to one year in jail for the shooting. The county also settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $2.95 million.
Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, who was on the initial advisory commission and led a group of members who issued a separate follow-up report last week, said it is encouraging that police have revised directives on use of force to emphasize de-escalation and less-lethal options, but there is still additional progress to be made.
“While it is true that the vast majority of our officers today perform their responsibilities professionally and with integrity, it is also true that a very few bad actors, even one bad actor, can undermine the community’s confidence in all,” he said.
The county now has a police auditor and civilian review panel for incidents, and Niedzielski-Eichner said body cameras could supplement that.
“They offer a similar benefit as the independent oversight, with the additional advantage of reducing the risk of an officer being falsely accused,” he said.
“After an appropriately deliberate approach to evaluate risks, benefits and costs of implementation, we expect the pilot project to provide substantial insights that will strengthen the technology’s effectiveness for the county and provide adequate privacy protections. We look forward to your consideration of full deployment of this technology,” he told supervisors.
Even with cameras, it is critical that police share information about incidents quickly rather than holding information close to the vest, he said.
“Accurate, timely and complete information about incidents involving police actions are integral to sustained public confidence in the department,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.
Chief Edwin Roessler said he fired Jason Colley…...bullshit. He was ordered to fire the murderer. Roessler kept the accused child killer on the payroll for exactly one year.
The ridiculously low levels that the Fairfax County Police hire from is Roessler choice. Fire Roessler, bring in fresh blood and watch how things change.
Fairfax County police officer fired, charged in daughter's death
FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. - The Fairfax County Police Department has fired an officer who was charged for killing his six-month-old daughter has been fired.
Chief Edwin Roessler said he fired Jason Colley, a 38-year-old man from Monrovia, Maryland, on Friday. Colley was charged with first-degree child abuse resulting in death, first-degree child abuse resulting in severe physical injury, and felony assault, according to the Frederick County State's Attorney's Office.
Colley's daughter, Harper, passed away in October of 2017 after being injured the previous month. Colley has been on paid administrative leave since April, when the department was notified that he was a suspect.
The local media needs to stop buying into the trash that the Fairfax County Police Chief is selling. This week he’s selling a sob story about suicidal cops on his force. According to him, at least 16 active and retired Fairfax County cops have snuffed themselves. According to him, policing is the cause. But here’s a thought, maybe they were nuts before they joined his gang. Maybe instead of hiring lunatics and thugs, we should fire him and bring in someone who won’t hide their crimes (child molestation, rape, murder etc.) and hire intelligent, normal people to police our streets.
Fairfax Co. police defend response after killing of Fairfax Co. teen Jholie Moussa
By Max Smith
Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler offered a defense Friday against suggestions they did not move quickly enough or spread the word loudly enough after 16-year-old Jholie Moussa disappeared in January. (WTOP/Max Smith)
FARIFAX, Va. — Fairfax County police offered a defense Friday against suggestions they did not move quickly enough or spread the word loudly enough after 16-year-old Jholie Moussa disappeared in January.
She was found dead two weeks later not far from her home, and on Thursday an ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder.
Police did not put out a public notice that she was missing when her family reported it the Saturday of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. Police initially considered her a possible runaway, since she had said she was going to Norfolk for a party the night prior.
“From the moment that we got this call, we did not stop [the effort] to find Jholie,” Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler said Friday, as her family sat in the back of the room.
“We entered her into the missing juvenile system, which then has national and regional reach,” Roessler said.
Police also checked several leads on Moussa’s possible location that weekend, the department said.
“The police department and every other agency did everything possible to find Jholie. We are now doing everything possible to bring justice,” Roessler said.
Nebiyu Ebrahim, who is now 18, is charged with first degree murder. While the case has been filed in juvenile court since he was under 18 when Moussa was killed, Virginia law outlines a process that would allow the case to be shifted to adult court.
“This is yet another horrible, tragic death of a young person from our community that had a bright future,” Roessler said.
Police continue to search for additional evidence.
A dive team searched for more evidence Friday in a retention pond near Woodlawn Park in the Alexandria area where Moussa’s body was found in a shallow grave. The pond is also near Ebrahim and Moussa’s homes.
As I wrote when this silliness started, these cops are too arrogant and out of control to let this go past anything but a PR show when the media was watching
Police Body Camera Pilot Program Set To End In Reston District
Researchers are surveying local residents and officers on what they thought of body cameras worn by Fairfax County police.
By Chris Gaudet, Patch Staff
RESTON, VA — A pilot program to test body cameras on Fairfax County police officers ended Friday in the Reston, Mason and Mount Vernon police districts. Officers began wearing the body cameras and undergoing training in mid-February. The program was fully implemented by mid-March.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the 90-day pilot in November, and it was extended to 180 days to better assess its impact. A total of 203 body-worn cameras was distributed to officers in the Reston, Mount Vernon and Mason districts, as well as to Motor Squad officers and Animal Protection officers. Not all officers wore body cameras, and school resource officers did not participate.
The three police districts were selected for the program because of their communities' diversity, the various types of calls for service and incidents resulting in the use of force, the Police Department said.
Under the program, officers wearing body cameras recorded any call for service, law enforcement action, subject stop, traffic stop, search or police service. Officers did not record in certain situations or places like courthouses and medical facilities.
(For more news and information like this, subscribe to the Reston Patch for free. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app; download the free Patch Android app here. Don't forget to like us on Facebook!)
American University researchers are studying how the program worked. This includes surveying residents and officers on their perceptions of the body cameras. A full analysis could be released early next year.
Like in-car videos, the body camera program is designed to give Fairfax County police a chance to build trust with the community and bolster accountability. Depending on how the pilot works out, the Board of Supervisors could consider a permanent body camera program.
No, he's not a sadistic lunatic, I mean, look at his photo. He's a warm cuddly man.
FREDERICK, Md. - A Fairfax County Police officer is being charged for the death of a 6-month-old girl.
On Tuesday 38-year-old Jason Colley was arrested in connection with the death.
Officials say the baby died in October last year and Maryland State Police said Colley became a suspect in April.
Colley turned himself in this morning at the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center after an indictment was signed by a judge.
He is being charged with two first degree child abuse counts and first degree felony assault. Colley has been an officer for 10 years.
The Fairfax County Police investigated themselves and....wait for it.....FOUND THEMSELVES INNOCENT!!!!!
When will this ever end? The Fairfax Police break the law, investigate themselves, find themselves innocent and the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney agrees with their finding...its amazing they can get away with this.....but they do..
FCPD arrest of reporter was impartial, independent auditor says
By Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
The Fairfax County Police Department’s investigation into the arrest of a reporter at the Annandale Parade in October was complete, thorough, objective, impartial, and accurate, Fairfax County Independent Police Auditor Richard Schott found in an incident report released on Aug. 10.
Fairfax County police arrested ShareBlue Media reporter Wilfred Michael Stark III, then 49, on Oct. 28, 2017 for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a confrontation over his use of profanity escalated with a takedown by multiple officers.
A video taken of Stark’s arrest was posted to Twitter on Oct. 31 by songwriter and activist Holly O’Reilly and widely shared, drawing scrutiny of the involved FCPD officers for using force against a journalist at a public event.
The video showed a pair of officers attempting to handcuff Stark against a fence after he uttered a profanity before throwing him to the ground. Four more officers appeared to pin Stark down until he was handcuffed and patted down.
Stark was at the Annandale Parade as part of his ongoing coverage of lobbyist and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie’s 2017 campaign to become Virginia’s new governor, according to a message posted on Oct. 31 by ShareBlue Media executive editor Jess McIntosh.
A truck for Gillespie’s campaign was featured in the Annandale Parade, an annual community event.
Fairfax County police initially sought a warrant for drunkenness and profane swearing in addition to disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but a magistrate issued warrants for the latter two charges only on the grounds that swearing was covered under the disorderly conduct charge.
Fairfax County General District Court ultimately found Stark, a Falls Church resident, not guilty of resisting arrest and guilty of disorderly conduct on Feb. 13, ordering him to pay a $500 fine.
The FCPD’s internal affairs bureau conducted an internal administrative investigation of the incident, but the department did not make any referrals to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Schott affirmed the internal affairs bureau’s finding that all of the involved officers had complied with the FCPD’s general order regarding the use of force as well as its determination that a lieutenant who asked an onlooker to stop videotaping the incident had violated departmental policy.
FCPD General Order 540 permits officers to use force “to the extent it is objectively reasonable to defend oneself or another, to control an individual during an investigative or mental detention, or to lawfully effect an arrest.”
FCPD General Order 603.1 asserts that individuals, including members of the press, have a right under the First Amendment to record on-duty police officers while in any place that they are legally allowed to be present.
The policy prohibits officers from threatening, intimidating, or otherwise discouraging any individual from recording police activity.
In his review of the FCPD investigation, Schott described Stark’s arrest as an “unfortunate confrontation that played out in a very public way” and could have been avoided had the reporter not loudly cursed at an event “designed to promote community involvement and neighborhood camaraderie.”
“The arrest of a reporter covering a parade in which politicians took part offended some observers, as did the force used to accomplish it,” Schott said. “In my opinion, however, both the arrest and force used were reasonable police responses to Stark’s actions.”
The objectivity of the FCPD’s internal review came into question after Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. defended his officers’ actions in a press conference held on Oct. 31 shortly after video of Stark’s arrest began circulating.
“The officer was exercising his lawful authority to effect an arrest and could not control this gentleman,” Roessler said in reference to the officer who used a leg sweep to take Stark down to the ground.
The internal affairs bureau’s investigation into the incident was still ongoing at that time.
Schott’s report acknowledges that the police chief’s vocal support for his officers might have it difficult for investigators to conclude those officers had acted inappropriately, but he argues that Roessler would likely have been criticized for a lack of transparency had he not commented.
“While it is understandable that Chief Roessler wanted to defend his officers following this controversial situation, concern that his bold statements defending those officers would prohibit a thorough review is also understandable,” Schott said. “While I understand this skepticism, I reiterate my opinion that the internal investigation was complete, thorough, objective, impartial, and accurate.”
Where this article gets it wrong is using the assumption that the job makes the cops nuts. No. Wrong. The Fairfax County Police largely hire lunatics who are already nuts.
By Doreen Gentzler, Christina Romano, Perkins Broussard and Sarah Cammarata
The suicide of a Fairfax County police officer last year is igniting change within the department and highlighting the increased risk of depression among law enforcement officers.
Mandatory suicide prevention training and greater awareness in the department aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues and police officers.
A Changing Minds project earlier this year prompted the officer’s family to share their similar story with NBC4. In March, an NBC study revealed new results on the stigma attached to mental health issues in fire departments.
Jennifer Basham lost her brother, Tony Basham, to suicide Aug. 28, when he shot himself.
The siblings joined the police department together more than 20 years ago. Tony Basham started as a detective and 2nd Lt. Jennifer Basham works as the chief flight officer for the helicopter.
She and her brother called each other frequently to talk about different things that happened on the job.
"We were actually a coping system for each other at times, because we knew each other could understand," Basham said.
After losing her main support system, Basham finds it hard to talk about her brother's death.
"It’s taking me a long time to even begin to come to terms with it, and so as I tear up, I’m just starting," Basham said, holding back tears.
She said her colleagues in the helicopter unit have been a large source of support during this tough time.
"I think there are changes being made in the department in a positive way to help others," Basham said.
Police work is dangerous and stressful, but in Tony Basham’s case, no one knew how much he was struggling. The tendency to bottle up emotions is common for many police officers.
"We have a tendency to normalize traumatic things, because if you don’t, you can’t get through it every day," Basham said.
Basham said police officers are forced to witness horrific events and move on very quickly. Yet, ignoring these events could be part of the problem, she said.
"You have to say that this is an issue," she said.
Basham’s mother, Cynthia Basham, is also struggling to cope with her son’s death.
"Police officer personality is that you can fix it and that you’re tough," she said.
"Saying, 'I can’t handle it,' they feel like it’s a sign of weakness, when it’s really not," she continued.
She also thinks a stigma surrounding mental health issues makes officers question how admitting their troubles will negatively affect their career.
Since Tony Basham's death, the Virginia police department created a suicide prevention video, part of mandatory training for all employees.
Cynthia Basham hopes their efforts will make people feel more comfortable asking for help with mental health problems.
"Maybe another family won’t have an empty chair at the dinner table because they are actively going forward with support," she said.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Jennifer’s new puppy, is offerring her some comfort, too. He was a gift from a colleague, who knew she was having trouble sleeping.
Jennifer also started to see a counselor and she is encouraged by how much the therapy has helped so far. Even so, she said it’s a very long and hard journey ahead.
"The thing that I wish my brother could have remembered was hope and that’s my goal for other officers, for them to always have hope that it will get better," she said.
By David Kerr
It’s a Saturday night and you’re in Northern Virginia, or in a host of localities around the country and you’re just driving. The destinations of drivers at that time of evening are as endless as the characters and personalities of those behind the wheel. Anything from dropping in on a favorite nightspot, going out to see a movie or, as teenagers still do, cruising. Some things don’t change.
There is a wonderful freedom about that ability to get in the car and just go. However, while you might assume that you are the only one that knows you’re at a certain spot or taking a particular route, that’s not necessarily so.
Thanks to license plate readers and big data computing, the police may know it too.
The technology of license plate reading has gotten better and better over the years. I remember a friend of mine who lost his car at an airport out West years ago.
He was in economy lot A or B, he didn’t remember, and both were massive parking lots. Oh, and it was snowing.
But he knew his license tag number and, by providing proof of who he was, the airport police told him where his car was and graciously gave him a lift.
Major airports keep regular imagery of all vehicle license plates on their property. Fair enough. In the post 9/11 world we accept quite a bit of intrusive technology.
But still, do police in Fairfax, for example, need to know that I was at the intersection of Route 50 and Little River Turnpike last Monday evening at nine?
Many police departments use license plate reading cameras, most attached to a patrol car, either moving or stationary, on a regular basis. In some cases there is a purpose. They have a specific crime to investigate, and they want to see if the criminal’s plate comes up.
Other times, for all practical purposes, they just take pictures. Millions of them. Los Angeles, for example, records up to 1.2 million license plate images a week. They really want to know who was where and when — even if there isn’t a clear reason for knowing why.
Therein lies the troubling part. Should police be able to record, by virtue of our license plates, our location at a specific time when they don’t have any particular reason for doing so?
It’s a good question, but it’s a widespread practice.
Fairfax County police for example collect a lot of license plate imagery. It’s a big county and it has its share of crime, but why the widespread collection of data?
Some of the answer may be in looking for patterns, thereby identifying cars that might have been near a crime. Or maybe they are trying to keep tabs on a suspect car.
But taking pictures of thousands of license plates is a sweeping way of gathering evidence. It also allows police, thanks to modern computing and pattern recognition so ware, to have a special insight, not necessarily welcomed, into where we go and the way we live.
For the record, Stafford County, where I live, a more live and let live kind of place, has one license plate camera mounted on a patrol car.
According to Sheri David Decatur its effectiveness in catching criminals is marginal. It sometimes helps them track down a criminal or stolen car, but that’s mostly on the larger throughways such as U.S. 17 and Garrisonville Road. Also, in the interest of privacy, the county deletes the data after 30 days. Chalk one up for Stafford County.
But not so for some of the bigger players. Los Angeles keeps their millions upon millions of license plate images for as long as five years. Fairfax keeps its considerable license plate library for up to a year, and Prince William and Arlington for up to six months.
But there are some challenges to this disconcerting practice. One recent lawsuit that made it to the Virginia Supreme Court argued that a license plate is personally identifiable information (PII). A little like a Social Security number. The court went along with this notion and sent it back to the lower courts for further consideration.
A slight twist on this is in California. The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t so much challenge the collection of the data as they did the transparency behind “why” the data was being collected. They simply want to be told how the data is being used.
Court cases like these could begin to put a crimp in this widespread collection of license plate numbers and a specific car’s location.
It’s a great technology, but this is a free society. We like to think our movements, where we go, what routes we take, what burger joints we visit are our own business. No matter how amazing the technology becomes, that still sounds like a good philosophy.
David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford County School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU and can be reached at StaffordNews@insidenova.com.
Monday, May 7, 2018
The Virginia Supreme Court held that license plate images taken by law enforcement agencies constitute “personal information,” reviving a challenge to the police storage of license plate data.
Automatic license plate readers (“ALPRs”) are used by police departments across the country to take thousands of photos of license plates per hour. Officers check these numbers against lists of stolen or wanted vehicles. Because ALPRs also record the date, time and location of the license plate image, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that this collection is an invasion of privacy that allows police to track a person’s movements.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling marks a significant development in a case challenging the mass collection of license plate images and location data by ALPRs. In 2015, the ACLU sued the Fairfax County Police Department (“FCPD”) on behalf of Harrison Neal, a motorist whose license plate had been captured twice and stored pursuant to a FCPD policy for one year. Neal alleged that FCPD’s collection and storage of ALPR data violates Virginia’s Data Act, a statute designed to prevent the unnecessary collection and storage of personal information by government agencies. However, the circuit court rejected Neal’s claim. The court ruled that a license plate number is not “personal information” under the Data Act because the number refers to a vehicle rather than an individual.
On appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, Neal argued that the state legislature broadly defined personal information in the Data Act to include inferences about an individual’s “personal characteristics, activities, or associations.” Because a vehicle is registered to an owner, officers can infer that owner’s location and other information associated with the owner based on decals, bumper stickers, and “silhouettes” of occupants inadvertently captured by ALPR photos. In response, FCPD argued that the ALPR database is not governed by the Data Act because it only maintains information about the license plate number and does not contain personally identifying information about the owner or driver of the vehicle. Lastly, the FCPD argued for a broad exemption from the Data Act because the ALPR database is used to solve crime.
Although the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court that the license plate number is not personal information, the court held that the license plate image and associated data are personal information under the Data Act. The Court reasoned that full photographs snapped by license plate readers “afford a basis for inferring personal characteristics” and the presence of an individual at a certain place and time. Additionally, the Court rejected FCPD’s crime-solving exemption and emphasized that FCPD’s “sweeping randomized surveillance and collection of personal information” was not connected to criminal investigations and intelligence gathering. Lastly, the Court remanded the case to the circuit court for further hearings on whether the ALPR record-keeping process stores personally identifying information about the owner or driver of the vehicle.
Virginia Supreme Court Takes Aim at Random License Plate Scans by Police
"The case will be remanded for a determination of whether the total components and operations of the ALPR record-keeping process provide a means through which a link between a license plate number and the vehicle's owner may be readily made," Justice Cleo Powell said.
By Michael Booth | May 04, 2018 at 02:15 PM
The Virginia Supreme Court may soon block law enforcement agencies from taking random photos of license plates using high-speed cameras and then storing that information in a database.
The court on April 26 ordered a trial judge to determine if those license plate photos, taken randomly by “automated license plate recognition” (ALPR) devices attached to the bumpers of patrol cars or to the bases of traffic signs, can be ultimately tied to specific individuals.
If that turns out to be the case, the practice may run afoul of the state’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, which restricts information law enforcement officials may gather on individuals who are not the subjects of criminal investigations, said Justice Cleo Powell, writing for the court in Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department.
“The case will be remanded for a determination of whether the total components and operations of the ALPR record-keeping process provide a means through which a link between a license plate number and the vehicle’s owner may be readily made,” Powell said.
The litigation began in May 2014 when a Virginia resident, Harrison Neal, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Fairfax County Police Department demanding to know whether one of its ALPR cameras recorded his license plate number.
Fairfax County is a largely wealthy, sprawling suburban community located just west of Washington, D.C. It is home to the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In response to Neal’s request, the Fairfax County Police Department sent Neal two photos of his license plate, taken with ALPR cameras, along with the times, dates and GPS locations where the pictures were taken, according to the court.
Neal then filed a complaint in Fairfax County Circuit Court, seeking to enjoin the Fairfax police from continuing to collect and store license plate information.
According to the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, state Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli had, in 2011, told law enforcement authorities that they could not record and store ALPR pictures without violating the Data Act unless they were involved in a specific and ongoing criminal investigation.
Neal’s lawsuit, however, alleged that police departments, particularly those in heavily populated Northern Virginia, ignored that directive and continued to collect and store that information.
Fairfax County responded that the ALPRs were engaged in both “active” and “passive” collection of license plate information, and added that license plate numbers did not amount to “personal information” about particular individuals, according to the decision.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith dismissed Neal’s lawsuit on summary judgment, saying that a “license plate number is not personal information.”
On Neal’s appeal, the court ordered Smith to conduct further fact-finding hearings, and suggested that if a license plate number could be traced to a specific owner or driver, the collection of those pictures may violate the Data Act.
Nearly all states, according to the ACLU, employ some sort of ALPR technology.
The Virginia ACLU issued a statement in response to the ruling.
“Everyone should be able to move about freely in public without fear of the government collecting and retaining information about their comings and goings,” the ACLU said.
“[W]e are glad that the court recognized that an information system linking this information to the name of the vehicle owner would be subject to the [Data] Act.
“The indiscriminate collection and retention of sensitive location information like ALPR data poses grave risks to civil liberties. Long-term storage of such information can create a virtual ‘time machine’ of individual movements, ripe for abuse,” the ACLU said.
Neal was represented by Edward Rosenthal of Rich Rosenthal Brincefield Manitta Dzubin & Kroeger in Alexandria, Virginia. Fairfax County Senior Assistant County Attorney Kimberly Baucom and County Attorney Elizabeth Teare represented the police department. None returned calls seeking comment.
JUDGES SLAM BRAKES ON LICENSE-PLATE READING SYSTEM
Rule state's data-systems law protects consumers from constant surveillance
A network of cameras that captures your car license plate whenever you drive, recording times and locations, has been dealt a significant blow by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The justices have returned to a lower court a complaint against the automated license plate reader system used by the Fairfax County police department. The court wants to know whether or not police can track down an individual through a license plate.
If so, the system violates the law, the state’s Data Act, according to the court opinion.
The court said the “pictures and associated data stored in the police department’s ALPR database meet the statutory definition of ‘personal information.'”
“However, on the record before the court, we are unable to determine whether the police department’s retention and ‘passive use’ of information generated by ALPRs may be classified as an ‘information system’ governed by the Data Act. Accordingly the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgement in favor of [the police] is reversed. The case will be remanded for a determination on whether the total components and operations of the ALPR record-keeping process provide means through which a link between a license plate number and the vehicle’s owner may be readily made.
“If such a means exists, then the police department’s ‘passive use’ of ALPRs is not exempt from the operation of the Data Act … because the police department collected and retained personal information without suspicion of criminal activity at any level.”
While this case pertains only to a Virginia law, the Rutherford Institute, which argued for privacy for Americans in the case, called it a “blow to the police’s use of Automated License Plate Readers.”
The complaint was filed by Harrison Neal, who discovered the police were taking photos of his license plate, his car and him without any suspicion of criminal activity and storing the information in a database.
He sued to stop the police from collecting or storing information “without suspicion of any criminal activity.”
The state privacy law states information cannot be collected “unless the need for it has been established in advance,” which would rule out random collections and the use of databases.
“We’re on the losing end of a technological revolution that has already taken hostage our computers, our phones, our finances, our entertainment, our shopping, our appliances, and now, it’s focused its sights on our cars,” said John W. Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute.
“By subjecting Americans to surveillance without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the data for later use, the government has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, there is no such thing as ‘innocent until proven guilty,'” he said.
Whitehead explained that in reversing the lower court’s decision, the court found that license plate readers collect personal information prohibited by Virginia’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act.
The cameras used by the system photograph up to 3,600 license tag numbers per minute, catching every passing car. They then store the tag number and the date, time and location of the photograph in a searchable database. The data is shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars.
The lawsuit by Neal cited a 2013 opinion by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that ALPR data is “personal information” that the Data Act forbids the government from collecting and storing except in connection with an active criminal investigation.
The court ruling specifically said the judges agreed with the AG’s opinion that lawmakers did not give a blanket exemption to law enforcement systems but only those dealing with active investigations and intelligence gathering relating to crimes.
“We conclude that the police department’s sweeping randomized surveillance and collection of personal information does not ‘deal with investigations and intelligence gather related to criminal activity’ and, therefore if the ALPR database is determined to be an information system, it is not exempt from the operation of the Data Act.”