CPC Analyzes Beta Version of State’s New “Use of Force” Database

By Annemarie Maini, CPC Member

[Updated 9/12/2021]

The State of New Jersey, in an effort to improve transparency in law enforcement has launched the beta version of a website that will catalog every use of force by every police officer in the Garden State. The data, which state officials began collecting in October 2020, will allow members of the public to review the details of each incident.

The CPC has taken a first look at this new “Use of Force” database and the results are in the first attached document, which can be downloaded by the public.

A follow-up policy review was presented at the July 8, 2021 monthly meeting of the South Orange CPC. The supplemental review is attached in an additional document below.

In addition, most recently another policy review was presented at the September 8, 2021 monthly meeting of the CPC. that review is attached below.

SOMSD Task Force Resolution to Protect Students from Sexual Harassment and Violence

By Annemarie Maini, CPC Member

As a member of the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education, I would like to share the resolution that the Board passed on Monday, May 17th. It directs the Superintendent to establish a task force to protect students from sexual harassment and assault with a comprehensive approach across all ages. In previous meetings the Superintendent indicated that the district health curriculum will also be updated this summer.

Please click on the link below to read and/or download the file.

CPC Surveillance Camera Policy Review

By Annemarie Maini, CPC Member

In light of the recent news and information coming out regarding South Orange Village’s plan to install new surveillance cameras in certain areas of town, the following Surveillance Camera Policy Review was presented at the monthly meeting of the South Orange Community Police Collaborative on May 13, 2021.

Please click on the link below to read and/or download the presentation.

South Orange Police Replacing and Expanding Public Security Camera Network With Newer Technology

By Mary Barr Mann (reprinted from Village Green article April 17, 2021)

The South Orange Police Department is in the process of replacing public security cameras throughout the Village — mostly in commercial areas and busy intersections — and adding more, a process that will take several years as 8-12 cameras are replaced or installed each year. The plans calls for 50-70 cameras, manufactured by Verkada, installed over five years. 

South Orange has had security cameras for decades. However, the new devices are more advanced, with color imaging, high definition resolution and infrared night vision. Instead of being hardwired to the police station, they connect wirelessly to Verkada’s cloud, which stores the data for 30 days until it is rewritten (according to SOPD, incidents that are flagged for investigation or as evidence are isolated and can be saved or stored longer).

South Orange resident Ben Vitale became aware of the plan for new cameras through a South Orange municipal budget hearing last December and has been researching Verkada cameras and facial recognition software. Vitale recently raised concerns with the Community Police Collaborative, which sent the following statement in response to a request by Village Green:

“The CPC learned in March that resolutions approving the purchase and installation of new, high definition, cloud-based surveillance cameras were passed last year, and that the cameras would be installed downtown to replace existing cameras. CPC members reviewed those resolutions to learn more about the plan, and met with SOPD to understand its goals for the cameras, the deployment plan, the type of cameras in use, and who would have access to the live and taped feed. Residents with concerns about the cameras also contacted us directly, and spoke at our April meeting. We are continuing to work with the public, and our Village government and SOPD partners to understand the scope of the project and the privacy concerns it raises. We will make recommendations when we have completed that work.”

Captain Stephen Dolinac, who becomes Acting Chief on May 1 with the retirement of Chief Kyle Kroll, and Sgt. Richard Lombardi say that the cameras are not “surveillance” in that footage is not being actively monitored in real time. Rather, they say, the cameras are used for when an incident is reported; police then call up the location and time and review footage. A limited number of police department members and township employees have access to the data. Access and use of the footage is limited by police department policy.

In a followup email, Dolinac further addressed questions about facial recognition:

“As noted in the CPC meeting several times, by both Lt. [Adrian] Acevedo and Sgt. Lombardi, our Verkada camera system utilizes facial detection. For reference and clarification, the widely accepted definition of “Facial Recognition” has three components: Face Detection, Face/Image Analysis and Comparison to a database. I’ve included a link to Kapersky’s website where they have it broken down as a 4 step process (essential they’ve broken step 2 “Analysis” into two separate steps to further clarify the process). I’ve done this to illustrate that our system is only employing the first step in the facial recognition process. Our system does not have the capabilities to analyze images and is not connected to any database(s). When searching for a specific face investigators must search each camera separately. When a suspect in an incident is identified by investigators they must conduct individual searches on each camera to determine the actions and circumstances surrounding the incident. This follows the same exact procedure utilized by SOPD in the past, the only change being that the facial detection tool has the ability to greatly reduce the man hours involved in reviewing video. 

“As of this writing the Township does not have 70 cameras at its disposal, we have 13 of which 11 have the ability to conduct facial detection. Of those 11 cameras the majority are mounted in areas where traffic accidents are the prime concern, thus they are mounted at a height that is ineffective at capturing most faces (this is a byproduct of the camera resolution). Township Administration has advised the PD that funds may be available this year to expand the system but that has not been voted on or approved by the Board. My understanding is that there is a proposed allocation in this year’s Capital Budget for cameras which is pending review and a vote by the Board in the coming weeks.”

Dolinac also responded a concern raised by Vitale regarding use of the FBI “aka NY/NJ HIDTA” system: “We have used this tool for over a decade and only have a small group of authorized users (HIDTA limits access). This system pulls from NY and NJ mugshots verified with fingerprints. Our investigators have never and will never use this system as the sole means for identifying a suspect, it is simply a tool available to our investigators.”

For his part, Vitale says he is not necessarily calling for a face recognition ban: “Oversight is my more-moderate request. This oversight should be pro-active consent, not reactive discussions like we’re having now.”

In a phone interview, Dolinac said that, besides being guided by policy, the police department and township are limited by “what is practical, applicable and financially viable.” Dolinac said, “The cameras are for public safety” — for traffic incidents and “to promote successful investigation, arrests and conviction in the event of crime.”

“If someone is victimized, it helps us with the investigative process,” said Dolinac. “It helps courts and juries.”

Lombardi notes that the existing cameras need to be replaced. “They were cutting edge 10 years ago,” but are no longer. “We have to update,” he said, noting that a person would still not be using a 2011-era laptop today.

Meanwhile, the Township and PD are still working to purchase officer bodycams, which are mandated by the state for all officers by June 1 (a grant from several years ago was used to purchase dashcams for vehicles).  Dolinac says that the town is preparing its reimbursement grant application to the state, due April 30.

OPINION: Upgrades to South Orange Police Security Camera Network Should Be Paused

By Ben Vitale (originally published in Village Green article April 25, 2021)

The Village Green recently reported on the South Orange Police Department’s surveillance camera project.

I call on the Village Trustees to suspend this project, conduct broad public consultation, debate, and vote. Budget approval is not enough, because the cameras raise issues beyond dollar costs. Neither privacy nor increased police power have been given much weight, and it seems an odd time in history to be increasing police power.

Village Administrator Adam Loehner says the town is paying about $50,000 to MindsEye Technologies, of Parsippany, to implement the project. Another $50,000 is budgeted next year. The cameras also have ongoing operating costs paid to Verkada, the “cloud” vendor. Low capital costs make cloud cameras attractive.

They’re easy to deploy, too, because they connect wirelessly, via cellular networks, then over the public internet. Unlike the old cameras, which keep the video here in town, these feed into Verkada’s “cloud” data centers. All this has security consequences.

On March 10, according to Bloomberg News, hackers gained access to 150,000 Verkada cameras at 24,000 sites, including police departments, jails, hospitals, schools, and major companies. The hacker claimed it was “easy”, and showed real-time and archival footage to the Washington Post.

The new cameras aren’t simply a replacement. Most problematic is the increase from approximately 12 to 70. Also, the new system makes it easier for authorized users to see live or archived video, from anywhere on the internet, such as a squad car.

With 24,000 customers, the introduction of software, and a fast-moving Silicon Valley company, new features will come rapidly and cheaply. Even now, the system allows users to scan for males or females, or people wearing clothes of a given color. Most impressively, users can feed in an image of a face, and Verkada finds any video that matches. Verkada calls this “game-changing”.

Police distinguish the Face Match feature from “face recognition”, because it’s not identifying people by name, nor searching a database. However, a (not yet passed) 2020 Biometric Privacy bill proposed in Congress considers Verkada’s feature as face recognition.

SOPD officers do not have body cameras. It’s backward that we’ll add more street surveillance before police body cameras, which the State now requires and largely funds.

No search warrant is required to see the street video. When I mentioned to a Police spokesman my concern about this, he offered a well-worn argument: “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place.” This doctrine comes from a 1967 Supreme Court case, Katz v. United States, in which the Court allowed evidence from an eavesdropping bug that Federal agents planted on a payphone.

The argument seems applicable to 1990s-era cameras. In public, you expect to be seen by folks milling about, shopkeepers, and police walking the beat or in a squad car. But these new systems have superhuman capabilities like 24×7 recording, night vision, and remote access. Falling costs allow enough cameras and archive storage that detectives can essentially replay reality. 

Surveillance can be a force for good. Video can help protect the innocent, or act as a check on abusive policing. But this is typically from bystander cell-phone video, as in the death of George Floyd. Body cameras also improve accountability. Street cameras with face-recognition, on the other hand, increase police power, and the potential for abuse.

In recent cases, such as Carpenter v. U.S. (2018), the Supreme Court gave hints that the relentless comprehensiveness of digital surveillance is different. Law enforcement now needs a warrant before getting cell-phone records that reveal a suspect’s physical location.

Many Americans are troubled by China’s government’s efforts to control its population. It aspires to surveil 100% of public space, with sci-fi-level tracking. But these same technologies are being built out across America. The only difference is that we trust our leaders and democratic system to uphold our constitutional liberties.

Unfortunately, we have no reassurance that future leaders will be so benign. The Trump presidency showed that our democracy is fragile, and civil rights don’t march steadily forward.

We should decide in advance, not reactively, on each tradeoff of security versus liberty. The police will be more trusted and effective if they work with the consent of the community.

Thirteen cities have banned face recognition, including San FranciscoPortland, and Jackson Mississippi. Others, including New York, require Police to disclose new technologies, or get permission before deploying. This oversight needs to happen in South Orange.

As a lone voice, it is not my place to call for a ban on face recognition. That decision belongs to the people of the town. I will say that Cloud cameras are not the right choice, and we should limit the number to the dozen we’ve had up to now.

Contact your Trustee today.

To read a longer version of this opinion piece, visit here.

Village Plans Virtual Forum and FAQ Re: New Cameras

By CPC Outreach Subcommittee

Donna Coallier, Village Trustee Liaison to the CPC has informed OutreachCPC that she met with the South Orange Police Department on Friday, May 7th and came away with a plan to do a virtual discussion forum to gather broader input from the community on the installation of new cameras as outlined in recent articles and announcements. She noted that the SOPD is also working on an FAQ document to help educate the community. Trustee Coallier is working on a date for the forum, so check back to OutreachCPC.org for the date. More information on the proposed installation of new cameras can be found in other posts on our website – check them out! If you have a comment or would like to offer a blog post as a member of the South Orange community, please contact us at cpcquestions@southorange.org.