Village Seeks Community Input and Pauses Camera Purchases

By Donna Coallier, South Orange Village Trustee and CPC Liaison

South Orange elected officials are working with the South Orange Police Department (SOPD), Village administrative team, and the South Orange Community Policy Collaborative (CPC) to review SOPD policy on how the Village Digital Video System (DVS) is used in police operations. To give us time to share further information regarding our DVS practices and explore additional constituent input, we have paused DVS equipment purchases. 

We welcome and encourage your input to help us in our review – please take some time to review the SOPD DVS FAQ page, and, plan to join our Village-wide discussion on this topic at 7p on July 21. There, you will learn more about how and why we use the Digital Video System and some of the benefits, risks and trade-offs associated with their use. We’ll also use breakout sessions to gather your feedback on three topics: 1) any additional questions you’d like to see covered on our FAQ page; 2) your views and concerns, if any, on how we deploy the Village DVS; and 3) your Village DVS policy suggestions. 

If you are unable to attend the live session, or simply want to get a head start on providing feedback, please visit the FAQ page and submit your input using the links below when you have free time to do so.

Thank you very much for your time and interest in this important topic. Once we collect your submissions, we will sort them and share a summary of your input, which we will consider as we move forward in the Board of Trustee DVS policy review process. 

Village calendar entry – access the WebEx meeting link here: https://www.southorange.org/Calendar.aspx?EID=3800&month=7&year=2021&day=16&calType=0  

FAQ page link: https://www.southorange.org/838/Digital-Video-System

Constituent feedback form link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSec8QBMJFxGc8VTFEZR34xDzgtRm89oJkVtTOkF0iordTYqrg/viewform?usp=sf_link

Community Care & Justice Program Wants Your Input!

Link to Survey: https://shu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ehxgoE9G0FmPaxU

By Donna Coallier, South Orange Village Trustee and CPC Liaison

South Orange is partnering with Essex County and Seton Hall University to create and launch a social work pilot called the Community Care & Justice Program. The CC&J mission: to engage community members in designing and traveling their own wellness journeys, with a particular focus on protecting and elevating our most vulnerable and our youth. CC&J might include 911 Diversion, Restorative Practice Councils, Dialogue on How To Be An Anti-Racist, Community and First Responder Mental Health Awareness Training and more.

We have launched a survey to help identify CC&J priorities and we need your eyes and ears and input!

What values should drive our program? Where do you see a need for social work? How can we empower our community members to improve their mental health and wellness? How can we supplement Village law enforcement services to improve public safety in our community? Please help us to with these questions and more by completing the survey at the link below. And, thank you in advance for your commitment to CC&J.

Link to Survey: https://shu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ehxgoE9G0FmPaxU

Village Provides FAQs and Community Forum about the Digital Video System

By Donna Coallier, South Orange Village Trustee and CPC Liaison

In response to questions from the community about Village plans to upgrade the Digital Video System (DVS) and related policy for its use, we have provided an in-depth FAQ on the a SOPD web page, which can be reached at this link: https://www.southorange.org/838/Digital-Video-System. In addition, we will be conducting a virtual Village-wide discussion on this topic at 7p on July 21. 

We welcome and encourage input from our constituents as we continue our policy review – please take some time to review the FAQs posted on the SOPD web page, stay tuned for more information, and plan to join a virtual forum on July 21.

LETTER: South Orange Posts FAQs on Police Video Camera System, to Host Meeting July 21

Written By Donna Coallier, South Orange Village Trustee  (originally published in Village Green, June 27, 2021)

To the editors:

As has been shared and discussed in Village public meetings and on social media, South Orange  elected officials, in collaboration with the South Orange Police Department (SOPD), Village administrative team, and the South Orange Community Policy Collaborative (CPC), are in the  process of reviewing SOPD policy surrounding how the Village Digital Video System (DVS) is  used in police operations. Our DVS is a combination of hardwired and wireless video systems  and is used by our Village for public safety purposes. 

DVS equipment is purchased through the Village capital budget and procurement process. In the fall, each department compiles their operating and capital budget requests which are  reviewed and modified by the Village Administrator. Capital budget requests related to DVS equipment are submitted by the Information Technology and Police Departments. The Administrator then prepares a Capital Budget for broader review. We encourage constituent awareness and participation in this process through a series of public meetings in which capital outlays are presented to the South Orange Board of Trustees (BOT) and various committees. After capital budget approval and pricing vetting has occurred, a resolution must be prepared  and approved by the Board of Trustees before the purchase is executed. These last steps  occurred in October 2020 (resolution) and April 2021 (payment) for cameras that were  approved in the 2020 capital budget.  

Over the course of these meetings, many of our residents have expressed concerns with respect to the Village DVS and how it is deployed. At this point, to give us time to share further information regarding our DVS practices and explore additional constituent input, DVS equipment purchases have been paused. Once constituent input is gathered and analyzed along with relevant research and data, the BOT will complete its Village DVS policy review and recommend any needed policy changes. Progress to date includes the following: 

  • SOPD public outreach through the CPC to share information on how the DVS is used,  related SOPD policy, and the SOPD process to establish their policy;  
  • BOT CPC outreach, asking for help in identifying best practices and policies related to DVS use. Subcommittee findings have been presented to the public and we hope to  receive the formal recommendations of the full CPC soon; and 
  • Compilation of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the SOPD web page to address  questions we’ve heard in public forums and more, which is now available at this link:  https://www.southorange.org/838/Digital-Video-System

While our law enforcement professionals have used cameras in public safety operations since the mid-1980s, with technology advances the inherent risks and trade-offs in their use have come into sharper focus. Policy development necessarily must account for associated risks such as privacy concerns, data security, and the bias that exists when artificial intelligence is used to analyze footage.

We welcome and encourage your input as we continue our policy review – please take some time to review the FAQs posted on the SOPD web page, stay tuned for more  information, and plan to join a virtual Village-wide discussion on this topic at 7:00 p.m. on July 21.

South Orange Police Swear in First Female Sergeant

By SO Police Dept. and CPC Outreach

At the June 14th Board of Trustees meeting the Village of South Orange made it official: Sally Reaves is now the first woman to be appointed to the rank of Sergeant. At Police Headquarters Acting Police Chief Stephen Dolinac praised Sergeant Reaves’ work with several of her family members and fellow officers looking on. “As a front-line supervisor Sergeant Reaves takes on a position of enormous responsibility,” he said. Village President Sheena Collum then administered the oath after the Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution appointing her. Collum expressed her excitement and hope, saying that Reaves was a “testament to the type of officer we are proud to have in our department.”

Reaves, who has had an 18-year career as an officer, came to the South Orange department from the Orange Police Dept. in 2007. In an interview with OutreachCPC Sgt. Reaves told us that she began her career in 2003, having worked in the healthcare field for 13 years. The medical field took a strong emotional toll, but she wanted to pursue a career in helping others, so she chose to switch to law enforcement: “It was the best decision I could have made.” She notes that it has been an honor and a pleasure serving South Orange and “I could not have chosen a better town to work for.” She sees the Township growing in so many ways with new businesses opening up and new apartment buildings. She commented that she loves the family feel and family homes that make up a large part of the South Orange community and hope that we never lose that “home feeling.”

In answer to a question about youth and careers in law enforcement, Sgt. Reaves was very enthusiastic, saying that she “absolutely” encourages young people, especially women, to consider a law enforcement career. “We’ve had a really tough time the last few years, but I see things getting better after the murder conviction in the George Floyd case. A lot of people  became discouraged about starting a career in law enforcement because of all negative things that were happening. Now with all the changes in the laws, I see people applying for police officers jobs again. The key is trust, people need to know that they can trust the law and they will be treated fairly.”

We finished our interview with Sgt. Reaves noting that she loves her job and that she would not trade it for anything in the world. “I’m here for the people and I hope I can make a difference in the community.”

To watch the swearing in ceremony conducted at the Police headquarters in conjunction with the South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, please feel free to check out the video on YouTube.

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

By Annemarie Maini, CPC Member

[Updated 11/4/2021]

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. Following that review, the presentation was updated in November for the rolling year, October 2020 through September 2021, and that update is presented below as well.

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.