• Dec 27, 2016
If you’ve not been following the Fairfax County Supervisors’ actions to implement the recommendations from the Ad Hoc Commission on Police Practices for the last 14 months, let’s briefly catch you up.
The Commission, consisting of 36 members including 10 active or retired police, submitted its final report to the Fairfax County Supervisors in October 2015. The report contained 202 unanimous, transformational recommendations to restore accountability and public trust in the Fairfax County Police Department.
To date, the FCPD and other county offices have implemented, or “implemented with modifications” over sixty per cent of the recommendations. Another 25 per cent were approved in principle, with details, some critical, still to be finalized. Ten per cent more complicated or contentious ones are still under review. Four percent were not implemented.
In sum, this is better progress than many of us expected. Supervisors deserve credit for pushing ahead in the face of often strong resistance from three unions.
Recommendations “implemented with modifications” include some major changes from Commission proposals. For example, the “independent police auditor” lost some independence and had its role in criminal investigations restricted. Proposed reforms calling for more transparency and accountability to the public face stiffest opposition and delay. Examples include proposals to require prompt disclosure of names of officers killing citizens and, to adopt body cameras for all officers. The former was finally approved but with lots of wiggle room, and the latter is still awaiting even a limited pilot test, perhaps in 2017.
A recommendation to encourage the use of less lethal force by requiring all officers to carry Tasers (in addition to guns) is still being debated. While overall percentages look good, a closer look reveals critical, not cosmetic, exceptions.
There is one area where I believe the Commission failed to deliver recommendations likely to lead to change. The Commission was charged with reviewing the composition of the force and making recommendations to improve its diversity. The force is a bastion of white males in a diverse county. Women and minorities are grossly underrepresented, a situation which has not improved in the last several years.
Whites make up only 63 % of the county population, but 83 % of the force (only 1 in 8 of are women); blacks make up 9 % of the population, but only about 7 % of the force; Latinos are 16 % of the population, but are just under 5 % of the force; and Asian Americans make up over 10% of the population, but only 4 % of the force.
The Commission’s subcommittee on Recruitment and Diversity offered only two recommendations to improve diversity:
1) establish a diversity goal for each (of 8) commanders; and,
2) educate and train recruiting and selecting officers about implicit bias.
That’s it, nothing more. The supervisors adopted both verbatim, thus apparently deferring action toward a force composition reflecting the community they serve. Perhaps the board’s number one New Year’s resolution should be to formulate and implement some serious affirmative action in the FCPD.
To see the Commission’s recommendations and implementation progress to date, go to www.fairfaxcountypolicecommission and scroll down to “progress report”.
Happy New Year to all!
By Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner
Monday, December 19, 2016
#I endorse the Connection Newspaper’s recent editorial on the progress Fairfax County has made implementing the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, on which I had the honor of serving as chairman of the Use of Force Subcommittee. I have had the opportunity to interact with many members of the Fairfax Police Department, ranging from commanders to precinct-level supervisors and officers, all of whom I hold in high regard. We have a fine police department that we are fortunate to have protecting us day-in and day-out.
#While the August 2013 shooting death of John Geer was the catalyst for the commission’s formation, our charge was to assess the Department’s performance against national best practices. As we executed against this charge, we identified both areas for improvement and mechanisms we believed would strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the department.
#Forming a commission is a time-honored tool by public officials to delay action — or avoid it altogether — since there are always significant barriers to achieving change to deep-rooted organizational practices, traditions and culture. I commend both the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and the Police Department, particularly its chief and command leadership, with ensuring that the Police Commission’s work is not sitting on the shelf gathering dust.
#With my seven-month commission experience and a year’s worth of persistent focus on implementation alongside a dedicated subset of fellow commissioners, I can state without reservation that both the letter and spirit of the commission’s recommendations have been embraced by Fairfax County.
#Fairfax County is well on the way toward approving and implementing the preponderance of the commission’s recommendations. Of note in this regard are the following:
The two-pronged approach to independent Police Department oversight advocated by the commission and recently approved by the Board of Supervisors is significant in light of historical resistance to civilian review of police actions.
The changes directed by the supervisors and Chief Roessler with regard to the Police Department’s openness and transparency are substantial and have already helped regain the public trust lost, in part, because of the dismal handling of the Geer case.
The county’s investment in Diversion First, which provides treatment rather than jail for nonviolent people with mental illness, and broad-based police officer training in crisis intervention techniques, are already paying dividends. Those with mental illness are being treated with greater sensitivity to their affliction, easing the potential for unnecessary suffering, while also reducing the potential for officer injuries and the need for the use of force. Ultimately, this will also help insure a more effective use of tax dollars.
#As important and forward leaning as these steps are, I believe the recrafting and rewriting of the Police Department’s Use of Force policy, also known as General Order 540, warrants particular note. The new Use of Force policy encompasses the commission recommendations, which also incorporated use-of-force recommendations made by the independent Police Executive Research Forum. It gives emphasis to the sanctity of human life, dignity and liberty of all persons as its overarching value or driving theme; and it calls for de-escalation as the strategy of first resort when confronted with a threat rather than the use of deadly force.
#Every member of the Fairfax Police Department, from command leadership to police officer will receive training under General Order 540 by the end of January, 2017. Police officer performance will be assessed against the standards set in this policy, while recruitment and vetting of police officer candidates will focus on the abilities and temperament that comport with the values captured therein.
#While the preponderance of our recommendations have been approved and are being implemented, there are exceptions. For example, we called for all officers being outfitted with body worn cameras, to complement the dashboard cameras now mounted in each patrol vehicle. We believe such cameras will benefit both the public and the police officer. The supervisors delayed consideration of this recommendation for important matters of budget and privacy concerns, which I believe will ultimately be overcome.
#I encourage everyone who is interested to review the Police Commission recommendations progress report at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/policecommission/progressreport.htm. In summary, you will find that 178 of the 202 recommendations (88 percent) have been approved and are either in process of being implemented or have already been implemented; 15 (7.4 percent) are still under review; and 9 (4.5 percent) have been rejected.
#The evidence so far is that the deep-rooted change of the nature and spirit advocated by the commission is more achievable now than even the most optimistic expected. This noted, I caution that the transformative progress I have observed can only be sustained over time with the continued county and Police Department leadership commitment, the active involvement of the police rank and file officers and most critically continued community participation, monitoring and oversight.
#Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner served as chairman of the Use of Force Subcommittee of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission, and continues service on the Implementation Committee.
Supervisors outline procedures for bringing on police auditor and civilian review panel.
Tuesday, Dec. 6, the Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 in favor of establishing a nine-member independent police review panel comprised of citizens. Photo by Tim Peterson.
By Tim Peterson
Friday, December 16, 2016
One week after voting to establish Fairfax County’s first Civilian Review Panel for police, Public Safety Committee chair supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) and Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova outlined steps to be taken to fill the nine-member panel, as well as hire an independent police auditor.
Near the conclusion of the Dec. 13 Public Safety Committee meeting, Cook said a letter will be sent to organizations around the county by the end of December inviting them to submit nominees for the review panel. Those groups include minority organizations, disability services, interfaith groups and others that were part of the Election Process Improvement Commission.
Each supervisor will also be able to nominate individuals for the panel.
Cook said all nominations should be received by Jan. 31, 2017. For the next two weeks those applications will be available to the supervisors, who will then review them in closed session on Feb. 14.
On Sept. 20, the board created another oversight entity, the office of the independent police auditor. Both bodies were recommendations from the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
The members of the Civilian Review Panel will be volunteers, while the Independent Auditor and staff will be paid Fairfax County employees.
The job posting for auditor has closed, and received many applications, Bulova said. Six candidates have been determined by Fairfax County human resources to fulfill the requirements of the advertisement, supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) said.
Bulova said she’s appointed a screening committee for the auditor applicants, including Auditor of the Board Jim Shelton, Connection Newspapers publisher and Ad Hoc Commission member Mary Kimm, Ad Hoc Commission member Adrian Steel, chair of the commission’s Independent Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Jack Johnson, and supervisors Gross and Cook.
Sheriff’s Deputy Involved in
INOVA Hospital Shooting
Authorities said it appeared Jovany Amaya Gomez, 29, was having some sort of "mental episode." The hospital had released him.
By Mary Ann Barton (Patch Staff) - December 17, 2016 2:01 am ET
FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA -- A sheriff's deputy has been cleared in a fatal shooting from Aug. 15 at INOVA Fairfax Hospital, FCPD announced Friday afternoon. Jovany Amaya Gomez, previously identified as Giovanny Martinez, 29, died after he was shot by the deputy. He had approached a police officer earlier in the day because he was suicidal, and the officer had called an ambulance for him, the Washington Post reported. After he was released from the hospital, waiting at a bus stop, he charged at a sheriff's deputy carrying a metal sign post. The deputy shot and killed him, police said.
"Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh has informed Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Chief of the Fairfax County Police Department, that he finds no basis for criminal liability on the part of the Fairfax County Deputy Sheriff involved in the deployment of deadly force on Monday, August 15, 2016, on the campus of INOVA Fairfax Hospital," a statement reads from the police.
The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office will conduct an administrative investigation in accordance with its standard operating procedures.
Martinez died at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus, 3300 Gallows Road in Fairfax County. Authorities said it appeared Gomez was having some sort of "mental episode." The incident began Monday night, shortly before 10 p.m., when Inova Fairfax Hospital security called the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications (DPSC) to report that a suspicious man with "some sort of edged weapon" was seen at a bus stop outside the “green” garage on the hospital's campus, police said.
A deputy with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, who was in uniform and on assignment at the hospital, responded to the bus stop and located the suspicious man, according to police. Police say the man threatened the officer with some sort of object and the officer shot him. Police did not say what part of the man's body was hit.
Three Fairfax County police officers arrived and began to render aid to Gomez, and personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, already on scene at the hospital, arrived and transported the man to the hospital a short distance away, police said.
The man's condition was initially said to be non-life-threatening, Fairfax County Police said. No deputies or officers were injured. Police said that the deputy, who was placed on routine administrative leave, has been with the Sheriff's Office for 18 years.
By The Associated PressDecember 22, 2016 6:33 pm
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A federal lawsuit has been filed against a Fairfax County police officer over the use of a stun gun on a man who says he has cerebral palsy.
The lawsuit filed Thursday says the use of a stun gun on Elton Cansler in September 2015 was “grossly excessive” and “objectively unreasonable.”
Video taken by a bystander shows the officer, who is white, shocking Cansler in the back while his hands are on a police car.
Police have defended the use of force, saying Cansler was armed with a knife and kept reaching for it.
Cansler, who is black, was charged with assaulting a police officer and larceny. The assault charge was later dropped.
A police spokesman referred questions to the county attorney’s office, which didn’t immediately return a message.
By Tom Jackman
The police use of automatic license plate readers, photographing hundreds of license plates per minute and capturing the exact time and place of the photo, has become routine in law enforcement and is credited with helping to solve all manner of crimes, find missing persons and locate stolen autos. But the vast data those readers generate continues to alarm civil liberties advocates, troubled by the possibility of police tracking people’s movements, and now a legal challenge is headed to Virginia’s Supreme Court to determine whether the police can keep the information indefinitely — or not at all.
Different states, and individual police departments, have varying policies on how long the police can keep the data from their license plate readers. In Colorado, the data can be kept for three years. In New Hampshire, state law says the readers can’t be used at all. In Virginia, where there is no restriction, the American Civil Liberties Union entered the swirling controversy over data retention by suing the Fairfax County Police Department, seeking an injunction to prevent them from keeping the license data they currently maintain for a year. Last month, a Fairfax judge threw the case out, ruling that a license plate is not “personal information,” in what appears to be the first court ruling nationwide on that issue, important in states which prohibit government from keeping citizens’ personal information.
The ACLU is appealing that ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court. If the state high court reviews the case, its ruling would likely set a precedent in Virginia — either allowing police departments to maintain license data indefinitely, or requiring them to purge it almost immediately — that could launch a similar legal shift in state laws and police departments nationwide.
The Virginia case has attracted attention from national groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Vigilant Solutions, one of the largest manufacturers of LPRs, and both filed amicus briefs in the case. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that some readers can capture 1,800 plate numbers per minute, and that one Northern California law enforcement agency had collected data on 3.2 million plates in just three months. Of those 3.2 million, only 720 were linked to crime, and the other 99.09 percent were not, the foundation said.
Vigilant argued that a license plate “is essentially a ‘mobile billboard’ that is seen by countless others whenever a vehicle is in public view,” and that since government mandates license plates be publicly visible, “the additional act of recording what everyone can see entails no invasion of privacy distinct from this universal viewing.”
When it comes to license plate readers, “data retention is in fact the most critical issue nationwide,” said Chad Marlow, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU. He said the police argument for maintaining data can be summarized as, “Just because, just in case. ‘Just because we’re collecting the ALPR data,'” Marlow said, “‘we might as well keep it just in case one of you might be a criminal.’ That is mass surveillance to a ‘T.'”
Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith ruled in November that license plate numbers are not “personal information” and so do not require police departments to limit their use of automatic license plate reader data. The case is being appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Twelve states have enacted laws specific to license plate readers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, with some limiting the amount of time the data may be kept from 21 days (Maine) to 90 days (Tennessee and North Carolina) to 18 months (Vermont). A survey by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found most California police departments kept the license data for one to two years, though the Los Angeles County sheriff keeps it for five. There is no reader-specific law in Virginia.
The Virginia lawsuit centers on another state law, “the Data Act,” which says that agencies “shall not collect personal information except as explicitly or implicitly authorized by law.” The Virginia State Police, concerned about whether their collection of license plate data violated the Data Act, asked the state attorney general for an opinion. Then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) advised in 2013 that active collection of information for an ongoing case was legal but passive collection of license plates, without a need “clearly established in advance,” was illegal. The state police began purging their databases every 24 hours.
[Despite Cuccinelli’s advice, Northern Va. police still maintaining database of license plates]
But many police departments in Virginia ignored the advisory opinion and kept the data, some for as long as two years. A bipartisan measure to limit the data retention to seven days overwhelmingly passed both houses of the state General Assembly in 2015, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed the bill at the urging of police groups, saying it would “negatively impact public safety.” The ACLU, representing a Fairfax County man whose license plate had been recorded twice by the automatic readers, sued the Fairfax police days later.
License plate readers automatically photograph up to hundreds of plates per minute, while in motion, then convert the numbers into text and continuously compare those with a “Hot List” of stolen auto plates and cars related to other crimes. If a connection is made with the Hot List, a monitor in the car alerts the officer, who can act immediately. Storing the plate numbers, and their locations, also enables police to look back in time to try to link a car to a crime scene, or to find a missing person.
License plate readers were used by police in New York to help track down a man suspected of planting bombs in Manhattan in September. Police in Arlington, Va., found a 67-year-old man who had been missing for two days, and was near death, when his car was recorded blocks away from his residence. A 2012 survey of police departments by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that departments using license plate readers had increased their stolen auto recoveries by 68 percent. Don DeLucca, chief of the Doral, Fla., police and president of the IACP, said the readers had led to 42 stolen cars and one missing person in 2016 in his city of 56,000. He said the use of stationary readers at the entrances to the city was well known and served as a deterrent to criminals.
A Charles County, Md., Sheriff’s Office car equipped with automatic license plate readers on the back sends information to the in-car terminal, above, which checks it against a “Hot List” of stolen cars and other wanted vehicles. (James A. Parcell/For The Washington Post)
“The LPR system is a valuable crime fighting tool,” Fairfax police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said. “Often times crimes are not discovered immediately and/or we eventually develop leads in which we have to go back in time to develop probable cause and bring a suspect to justice to prevent further harm to the community. This is a primary reason why it’s important to retain the data within the scope” of the Virginia Data Act.
Still, most of the stolen autos and missing persons are located quickly if not immediately by the plate readers. Maintaining time and location data of cars over time creates the possibility for abuse by creating a trail of personal movement, many experts said. “It becomes very seductive as a law enforcement tool,” said Joseph Schafer, professor of criminology at Southern Illinois University, “because you’ve got a lot of data.” Officers could use it secretly to obtain leads on cases, Schafer said, or monitor the movements of someone either for professional or personal reasons, and if violations occur, they would not likely become public.”This is a great example of how technology and data systems can encroach into our lives.”
The ACLU’s Fairfax lawsuit on behalf of Harrison Neal focused on Virginia’s Data Act law prohibiting the collection of personal information, defined to include an “agency-issued identification number.” Lawyers Edward Rosenthal and Hope Amezquita argued that “it is difficult to understand how the tag number assigned by the DMV…is anything other than an agency-issued identification number…which FCPD admits it stores in its ALPR database.”
In Fairfax’s first attempt to dismiss the case, a judge agreed with the ACLU. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Grace B. Carroll ruled that the license plate, “by virtue of the link to the data bank to DMV tells you who that vehicle belongs to…this court finds that that is personal information.” Carroll added, “Otherwise, what would be the point of holding that information?”
But Fairfax moved for summary judgment in the case. Assistant County Attorney Kimberly Baucom argued that the license plate number of a vehicle “says absolutely nothing about an individual, his personal characteristics such as his fingerprints, or his membership in an organization…The FCPD’s ALPR database contains no additional information associated with the license plate number, nor did it contain any information specific to Neal.”
Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Smith issued an opinion on November 18, embedded below, after finding no precedent anywhere on the issue of whether a license plate qualifies as personal information. Smith examined the issue from a privacy perspective, reasoning that if information isn’t private, how can it be personal? He noted that federal appeals courts have found that “there is no privacy interest in a license plate number,” in part because it’s in plain view, and that running a check of a license plate by an officer is not a violation of the Constitution.
“A reading of these cases,” Smith wrote, “logically leads to but one conclusion to that issue — license plate numbers are not personal information.” He dismissed the ACLU’s suit. The ACLU filed its notice of appeal on Dec. 20. ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said of the judge’s ruling, “It’s very hard to understand how a social security number or other government-issued number is deemed personal information, but your license plate number is not. All these numbers are indexed to your name across various databases easily accessible to law enforcement agencies.”
If the Virginia General Assembly added license plate numbers to the Data Act’s definition of personal information, as it did in the bill vetoed in 2015, the case would become moot. State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D), who helped create the bipartisan Ben Franklin Liberty Caucus in the General Assembly after the license plate reader issue intensified, said he would be taking another run at the matter in 2017. “Any type of surveillance technology that just randomly accumulates data,” Petersen said, “and makes it available to the police, I don’t accept it. I think it’s incumbent on us to put restraints on these types of technologies.”
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A similar debate is rumbling through statehouses across the country, with about a quarter having already enacted reader-specific laws and another quarter of the states considering one, Schafer said. “It’s split,” the ACLU’s Marlow said of debates over how long to allow the data to be kept, “but because of politics, not philosophy. A lot of states have a practice of deferring to law enforcement, and a lot of the police departments are political forces in and of themselves. The politicians don’t want to take on that fight.” Politicians who oppose police on an issue could find embarrassing data about their whereabouts leaked, in one possible scenario of abuse of reader data, Marlow said.
Fairfax Chief Roessler said that wouldn’t happen. Existing laws “prohibit anyone from accessing the system for mere curiosity and/or abuse. Accessing the system is strictly held to law enforcement purposes only.” He said Fairfax’s policy “demonstrates how we safeguard from ‘big brother’ abuses. I will not tolerate such abuses by any employee as the public’s trust is paramount with this data.”
Marlow said he had spoken to a number of chiefs who understood the privacy concerns. “But they do not have a privacy mission,” Marlow said. “They take their responsibility as stopping crime. I understand that keeping data on every American would enhance crime fighting. Just as locking up every American would fight crime. We have to balance the equation.”
By Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
ANGELA WOOLSEY/FAIRFAX COUNTY TIMES
The City of Fairfax Police Department launched its new body camera program on Thursday with minimal ceremony.
All patrol and motor officers for the city are now required to wear square black cameras when they leave the department station on Old Lee Highway. They must turn the devices on during encounters with members of the public that might become confrontational, including vehicle stops and disturbance call responses.
The program makes the City of Fairfax Police among the first departments in the Northern Virginia region to utilize body-worn cameras, according to the December issue of Cityscene, the city’s official monthly newsletter.
“The body camera program will significantly increase officer safety, enhance our ability to successfully accomplish our mission, boost trust, and increase accountability to the community,” City of Fairfax Police Sgt. Shawn Sutherland, who works in the community services section of the department’s public information office, said.
The department purchased 38 new body cameras using a $29,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, along with matching funds approved by the Fairfax City Council in its current budget.
According to Sutherland, the availability of federal financial assistance helped the city and police department decide to implement body cameras, and there has been little to no opposition to the program.
Each officer has an assigned body camera that they must pick up and inspect to ensure it’s working properly at the beginning of their shift. They put on the camera by attaching it to a frame that fits in their uniform chest pocket.
Department policy requires that officers activate their camera during all searches, vehicle and subject stops, accident investigations, foot and vehicle pursuits, pat-downs, any investigations of criminal activity where they interact with a civilian, prisoner transports in vehicles without an in-car camera, disturbance calls and incidents, and any other potentially confrontational situations.
Failure to turn on a camera when obligated would result in disciplinary action by a supervisor, though Sutherland says he can’t specify exactly what that would entail.
The City of Fairfax Police will store video footage from the cameras in a cloud-based server, where it must be kept in accordance with the Library of Virginia’s record retention schedule for state and local public records.
Police record retention varies depending on the kind of crime involved in each case. For instance, traffic stop records and internal affairs reviews are retained for one year, while misdemeanors range from five to 10 years and felonies 30 to 50 years based on whether or not the case was resolved.
Records for unresolved cases involving serious crimes against a person are retained for as many as 100 years after the case is officially closed.
Officers have read-only access to the video they record and can review the footage before filing case reports or testifying in court.
Public access to body camera footage will be limited to the discretion of the department, according to Sutherland, who says materials related to ongoing, active investigations or that include potentially sensitive content, such as witness interviews, won’t be released.
In addition to providing a new means to investigate citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents and prisoner injuries, the body camera program could benefit the officers themselves by serving as a new training and performance assessment tool. The footage will also be used to assist with criminal prosecutions.
Sutherland says that City of Fairfax officers are in support of the new program, since they believe it will improve officer safety as well as the department’s relationship with the public.
“I can tell you the City of Fairfax has a very good relationship with the community,” Sutherland said. “We’ve done a great job with our community here. The body cameras will just help enhance that trust with us.”
Calls for law enforcement agencies to utilize body cameras have increased over the past few years in the wake of highly publicized, often fatal uses of force by police officers against civilians, particularly communities of color and people experiencing mental health challenges.
The Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) has been subject to scrutiny since an officer shot and killed Springfield resident John Geer in 2013. The involved officer, Adam Torres, was later fired and sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty in June.
After undergoing review by an ad hoc commission assembled by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, FCPD has instituted some policy reforms since Geer’s death, such as a renewed focus on de-escalation during training and a new requirement that the name of officers involved in critical incidents be released within 10 days.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved recommendations to establish an office of the independent auditor to review use-of-force allegations and officer-involved shootings as well as a civilian review panel that will look into complaints of misconduct or abuse of authority by FCPD officers.
The board addressed the issue of body cameras at its June 21 meeting when supervisors unanimously approved a use-of-force recommendations plan that included an 18-month review period for the cameras, though FCPD Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. has said the department is ready to start a pilot program.
“What should be the deal with data collected from body worn cameras, and then also, once you’ve collected it, who has access to it?” Chairman Sharon Bulova asked during the board’s discussion of the plan. “Who can ask for it? Who can see it? That’s a bit more complicated…In a small jurisdiction, that might be easy. But in a large jurisdiction with the volume of data that our police department would be collecting, that is significant.”
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office launched a pilot program with 42 body cameras in the fall of 2015, and the Prince William County Police Department conducted a 60-day body camera field test in August. Police in Arlington also started wearing body cameras in August for a pilot program designed to evaluate different kinds of cameras.
The police department for the City of Alexandria has said it’s ready for body cameras but is waiting until Fiscal Year 2018-19 to acquire funding.
Documents from Chicago's Cook County Sheriff’s Office reveal the undercover techniques law enforcement uses to monitor—and manipulate—social media users.
In October, the ACLU released emails showing that a social media monitoring company called Geofeedia had tracked the accounts of Black Lives Matterprotesters for law enforcement clients. The revelations of social media spying made headlines and led Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to cut off Geofeedia’s access to bulk user data (which in turn prompted the company to slash half its staff). Since then, two more social media monitoring companies, Snap Trends and Media Sonar, lost Twitter data access for similar surveillance activities.
Civil liberties advocates have celebrated these decisions, but new documents suggest police still have plenty of other tools to spy on social media users.
Jennifer Helsby, co-founder of the police accountability group Lucy Parsons Labs, provided CityLab with a slideshow prepared by a former employee of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office Intelligence Center that sheds some light on how police use social media. The presentation shows intelligence analysts how to mine location and content data from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—and advises them on setting up fake accounts and assembling dossiers on persons of interest.
One tip shows sites such as Statigram and Instamap, which can help law enforcement analyze photo trends or collect photos on individuals in targeted areas. This example points to images of individuals collected using Instamap near the Cook County Jail, which the Cook County Sheriff’s Office operates, as well as images of a child, a young woman, and families in Chicago.
Other slides reveal more advanced monitoring techniques. Geofeedia, the presentation states, can be used to geolocate users and conduct a “Radius and Polygram search” of an area for social media content. Echosec, a lesser known tool can monitor and geofence users, which allows police (and marketers) to track and collect users’ posts as soon as they are disseminated within a bounded area.
These tools rely on individuals’ public social media posts, but the slideshow also explains that police can use “catfishing”—creating fake accounts—to get non-public social media data, even though such accounts are not permitted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While social media surveillance is often thought of as targeting certain locations or terms, such as hashtags, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office records suggest that intelligence analysts are also compiling information on persons of interest for longer term retention, not just for “situational awareness” at public events. Here’s a sample “Intelligence Information Report,” for example, to collect photos and other information.
The presentation doesn’t get into whether there are limits on who can be the target of these operations, or what legal safeguards they are ensured. One slide mentions terms such as “probable cause” and “search warrant” but there is no explanation if or how legal procedures affect the monitoring. Some of the slides suggest this police monitoring is not necessarily focused on dangerous criminal suspects. For example, the presentation links to an ABC news clip featuring a specialized LAPD unit “dedicated to tracking teen parties in real time by monitoring social media.” (The Cook County Sheriff’s Office declined CityLab’s requests for comment on its social media monitoring program.)
“As long as you type it, for police it becomes real.”
Joseph Giacolone, a retired NYPD Detective Sergeant and professor at John Jay College’s Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration Department, says that while these undercover social media accounts may violate the terms of Facebook and Twitter, that doesn’t make them illegal. “It’s no different than running an undercover operation, or a buy and bust,” says Giacolone. “Requesting a friendship, as a policeman you have to be careful of that entrapment issue. But if you just put a half-naked picture of woman in there, you’re gonna get in. I mean how hard is it really? They’re gonna invite you right in.”
Nationwide, experts say there is very little clarity on how often undercover online operations are carried out. Surveys suggest such activities are often left up the discretion of police officers themselves. “Seventy percent of the detectives using this are self-taught and like half of the departments don’t even have a policy or procedure on how to use it,” says Giacolone, citing a 2014 LexisNexis survey on the use of these tools. “So cops are working without a net, so to speak, and you are going to see lots of challenges on these things.”
The same survey found while only 48 percent of departments polled had formal processes for using social media in investigations, 80 percent of law enforcement officers reported that they felt that “creating personas or profiles on social media outlets for use in law enforcement activities is ethical.”
One major concern among civil liberties advocates is that such methods are unfairly targeting the general public, not those who’ve already committed a crime. The LexisNexis survey also indicated that 40 percent of law enforcement officers had used social media monitoring to keep tabs on “special events” and 67 percent of respondents believed that social media monitoring “is a valuable process in anticipating crimes.”
ACLU of Northern California policy attorney Matt Cagle, who helped break the news on Geofeedia’s surveillance of Black Lives Matter, worries that covert accounts lack judicial oversight. ”This new world of surveillance products shouldn’t give law enforcement a blank check to create undercover accounts and collect information on law abiding people,” he says. “By using undercover accounts, they are potentially friending multiple people and getting much broader access than a warrant to Facebook for specific information would allow.”
So, who are really most likely to be targeted by social media snooping by law enforcement? Brendan McQuade, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY-Cortland who studies law enforcement intelligence operations, is concerned that these methods will be used to crack down on political dissent. “It’s bad criminal tradecraft to broadcast your stuff on social media, so I would think this is more geared to political policing,” he says. McQuade points out that data already available to law enforcement, such as phone company records, allow police to grab suspects’ association and location information far more efficiently.
Geofeedia advertised its usefulness on this front during what it called “The Freddie Gray Riots” in Baltimore last year. In promotional materials aimed at police departments, the firm claims that its product, which was used by Baltimore County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, helped police “to run social media photos through facial recognition technology to discover rioters with outstanding warrants and arrest them directly from the crowd.”
Giacolone says that social media surveillance can be useful for crime-fighting, but general only for low-level youths, not serious players. “You got two types of people out there: the young kids, the look-at-me generation that posts everything online, and then you have the older crowd that has learned to use social media to sell drugs through anonymous social media and its difficult to identify them. Most of these young kids are just posting, like, ‘Hey, everybody, I just robbed the store on the corner, look what I got.’”
“If you’re black or brown, your social media content comes with a cost—it’s a virtual prison pipeline.”
Even if these spying operations were only limited to suspects in such low-level criminal investigations, civil liberties advocates warn that users should be concerned about the ways in which their data is being retained and interpreted by law enforcement. Over the last few years, the NYPD has relied on millions of social media posts to justify “gang” raids across the city, targeting neighborhood youth crews whose online discussions sometimes relate to violence in their communities. Subsequent prosecutions for these raids have been controversial because social media chatter about shootings, drops in individuals’ volume of social media activity, and online photos of young men flashing hand signs have been questionably interpreted as evidence of gang membership and involvement in violent criminal conspiracies.
Matt Mitchell, a security researcher with the racial justice organizationCryptoHarlem, notes that the NYPD has carried out these operations by building intelligence dossiers on social media users over years, as the CCSO appears to be doing. ”The police are saying, ‘I’m going to follow you everywhere you go, write down every word you say, and look at every picture you take’, and now with these undercover accounts they are your friend hearing everything you say in confidence,” says Mitchell. “If you’re black or brown, your social media content comes with a cost—it’s a virtual prison pipeline.”
Often the NYPD’s social media surveillance gang operations collect and sift through social media content from teens and pre-teens over years, only to be used against them in court much later down the line. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s retention of social media data through intelligence reports could enable similar prosecutions. “What you say online is not always real. It’s not the same as something police pick up on a wiretap, but as long as you type it, for police it becomes real,” says Mitchell. “If you look hard enough, you’ll find something, no matter who you’re looking at. Take this post today, look at this thing they did five years ago, put it together, and you can draw any conclusion you want.”