Sandusky: To spy or not to spy

Some residents outraged; city commissioners talk about police cruiser cameras that feed data to federal government
Andy Ouriel
Jul 24, 2013

A Register story on Sunday reported the federal spying program's ties to the city. Through two cameras mounted on a Sandusky police cruiser's trunk, the device logs license plate numbers and transmits the data to an organization affiliated with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It has been in place since mid-November.

At a public meeting Monday, a contingent of local residents — led by city commissioner Diedre Cole — have harshly criticized use of the device.

Cole's comments centered on two points: The cameras are an invasion of privacy, and they provide no benefit to local residents or police officers.

"The public has a right to know that while you are sleeping, the police department is traversing the streets of Sandusky with a vehicle that captures your license plates and transmits that data to Homeland Security," Cole said. "Residents need to be made aware that this technology will allow a blueprint of your life to be accessed by officers scanning your license plate."

Sandusky police Chief John Orzech said the the device can might be useful to assist officers tracking down stolen vehicles.

Orzech said the data compiled from scanning license plates is indeed stored by Homeland Security, but he doesn't know how the data is used or maintained.

Among the other problems:

•The license late scanners haven't aided local officers in solving any crimes thus far. "We haven't really done anything with it," Orzech said. "It's really hit or miss."

•The devices don't perform certain functions that were promised.

Case in point: The devices don't connect to a state system that law enforcement officers use to look up crime and court records. The pitfalls of the technology actually convinced Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth to remove four similar cameras that were previously placed on cruisers at his department.

The sheriff's employees removed the mounted cameras and asked federal officials to pick up the equipment about a year ago.

"They're still here, in the boxes, waiting to be picked up," Sigsworth said.

The American Civil Liberties Union was first to address this issue of the federal government funding license plate readers. In a report issued earlier this month, "You are being tracked," the civil rights group called it a dangerous trend in American cities. 

“More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives,” the report states. “The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.”

On Monday, after reading the Register story, local residents showed up at City Hall to lambast the federal government's monitoring program and its implications locally, too. 

"I am one of the community members who feel uncomfortable with this," Mills Street resident Dan Leavell said. "I feel that law enforcement has plenty of tools in their arsenal in order to apprehend someone who is breaking the law. I see this as another step in the invasion of an individual's privacy."

Orzech said he will remove the cameras if people don't want them.

"If you want them off the car, we'll take them off," Orzech said. "It doesn't make a difference to me."

Count Fifth Street resident Sharon Johnson among the people demanding officials remove the cameras.

"If Erie County dismantled their readers, I don't see why Sandusky can't dismantle them too," Johnson said. "We are getting too complacent about our privacy."

Helpful or harmful?

Commissioner Keith Grohe spoke in favor of the cameras.

"If you have a (smartphone), that same information goes all over the place," Grohe said. "Also with Twitter, Facebook, where you shop if you have a debit or credit card. You have to admit that in today's world we are tracked all over the place."

Cole slammed Grohe's opinion.

"That's all by choice," Cole said. "Whether I have a smartphone or use my Kroger Card is my choice. Whether (police) use a car and scan my tag is not my choice."

Smith then argued with Cole, pointing out that license plates and the streets people drive on are public.

Cole quickly countered the point.

"My concern is what information is public," Cole said. "If you visit a particular doctor and then go to Sunday school and then a political rally at night and then visit a particular bank or mosque, all of those data points can be collected and assembled into a virtual blueprint of your life. 

"I would like to know if there is a way that we can reasonably come up with an analysis of how valuable this technology is to us," Cole said. 

City commissioner Wes Poole said he's not overly worried about the cameras, but he's concerned that city officials — namely city manager Nicole Ard — failed to inform him of what the cameras can do.

"I do have some concerns about staff presenting information to us," Poole said. "You left me with the impression you would be obtaining a tool that was going to be a value to the city. When you don't have the information and I have to make a decision, I must then live with the unintended consequences."

City commissioners said they'll continue to discuss the status of the cameras at upcoming public meetings.

 

Friendly chatter

The Register asked some of its Facebook friends for their opinions on the two cameras mounted on a Sandusky police cruiser. The cameras are capable of scanning a license plate number and sending information on a motorist's whereabouts to the federal government:

• Sandee Micheletti: Not a criminal, so it's fine by me.

• Janice Rogers Parker: I don't feel they should.

• Connie Slaughter: I don't think it's right. What is the reason for this? I'm not a criminal.

• Josephine Horne: I think it's wrong. Just like the government listening to our calls.

• Mike Lugtig: They already have our address. That's good enough. I mean, let's just line up so they can put a GPS in all of us.

• Andy Bauman: Criminal or not, you are entitled to a level of privacy inherent in the Fourth Amendment. This isn't a matter of whether you or I are criminals but that those in authoritative positions are unashamedly committing criminal acts.

• Chuck Miller: We no longer live in a free country. Canada here I come.

• DeeJay Graves: Complete invasion of privacy and overstepping of boundaries.

• Brandi Jurek: It's wrong.

• Kelly Groves Scott: Doesn't bother me even the teeniest, tiniest bit.

• Kari Miller: No. Only if they were on the lookout for a specific person should this be enabled. For example, searching for a runway or escaped (person). But once that technology is there, I'm sure the government would use it.

• Matt Keegan: What does the federal government need to know about my whereabouts for? Why are public servants paid by my tax dollars given the OK to do this? This is not OK.

• Jason Lutz: I got nothing to hide, but I still don't think ti's right that the government knows what I'm doing all the time. They should have better things to do than know I'm at Walmart and going to smash on some Red Lobster for dinner.

• Joe Artino: Doesn't matter. Look at Google Earth. You think that's the only satellite photos or videos being taken of us? I don't think so. So (the cameras on) the back of an SPD car is minor compared to what else is going on we don't even know about.

• Tim Smith: I love my country but fear my government.

• Kelly Netherland Gillespie: It shouldn't matter if you have anything to hide or not. IT is a totally unnecessary invasion of privacy, and it' sonly going to get worse. Did we forget they are public officials meant to serve the public? Why are we so willing to give up our liberties?

Comments

Cowboy

I say put them on State Trooper's cars. Those are the ones that really matter. Catch them before they get into our city streets.

princedenny

I see more patrol cars on Perkins Ave, 250, Columbus Ave, Cleveland Rd, and other city streets than I do on the highway.

FlyBoy86

I'm more for this than wasting local police resources.

zachfromsandusky2

Okay I'm just Houghton clear this crap up now for everyone! The cameras mounted on the cruiser read multiple license plates and run the plate through local state and nationwide law enforcement information databases that immediately tell the officer If the vehicle has been stolen, Is wanted by an agency regarding a criminal investigation, If the registered owner has active warrants or If the vehicle has been linked to an amber alert. All of this information was already accessible and has been since agencies began using mobile data terminals (mdt's) or in layman's term laptops in cruisers. Ever seen an officer using the CPU while stopped at a red light and wondered what he is doing? He is running a license plate into leads to find out the above listed information. The mounted cameras are simply running license plates at an astonishing pace, something an officer can't do while entering plates manually by typing them. These cameras are much more efficient and much safer as the officer can focus on driving instead of typing with one hand and driving with the other. These cameras are doing anything that wasn't already being done already other than working much faster than a human can!

CAPNTIM50

Ohio Highway Patrol do have these. I think it could have been spent on something better, but if it was earmarked for these devices, for the local police, than nothing can be done.

SamAdams

Okay, Chief, let's see just how honest YOU are: You say you'll take the equipment off the cars if the people don't want it. WE DON'T.

As for installing the equipment without much thought (not to mention failing to discuss it publicly and with the Commission beforehand) just makes me more certain it shouldn't have been done at all! Tell me, Ms. Ard, etc., if you don't have anything to hide, why was it so long 'til we heard about this, eh?

As for those few of you who don't care how much you're tracked because YOU don't have anything to hide, just remember this: Such information, while rarely useful, is much more often MISused. You may choose to give up your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. I DON'T. And for the record, I don't have anything to hide, either. I do, however, apparently have principles that you don't!

nonconformist

Well said, Sam.

senioritis

Agree!!

twosenseworth

@SamAdams
This issue was discussed publicly at a commission meeting (November 26, 2012) by (then) police chief Jim Lang. I recall him advising that the plate readers were available through a grant, and at no cost to the city. It was reported at that time that these camera's had a value of $17,000 and they would be helpful in identifying people driving under suspension (although that aspect wasn't working properly) and recognizing stolen license plates. It was brought up prior to acquiring them. See page 7 of the minutes.

Nemesis

Did he mention at that time that they would be feeding the database of J.Edgar Hoover's wet dreams?

zachfromsandusky2

Okay I'm just Houghton clear this crap up now for everyone! The cameras mounted on the cruiser read multiple license plates and run the plate through local state and nationwide law enforcement information databases that immediately tell the officer If the vehicle has been stolen, Is wanted by an agency regarding a criminal investigation, If the registered owner has active warrants or If the vehicle has been linked to an amber alert. All of this information was already accessible and has been since agencies began using mobile data terminals (mdt's) or in layman's term laptops in cruisers. Ever seen an officer using the CPU while stopped at a red light and wondered what he is doing? He is running a license plate into leads to find out the above listed information. The mounted cameras are simply running license plates at an astonishing pace, something an officer can't do while entering plates manually by typing them. These cameras are much more efficient and much safer as the officer can focus on driving instead of typing with one hand and driving with the other. These cameras are doing anything that wasn't already being done already other than working much faster than a human can! And please don't speak for the entire community saying we don't want the equipment because If yourc child were abducted , when the amber alert goes out on them and the vehicle information is entered to this database you will be glad these camera are on cruisers because the camera read every single license plate that is within It's range and would alert the officer of the amber alert. Why don't you do some research or have practical knowledge about the equipment before you condemn it and speak for the whole city!

SamAdams

Zach, the issue isn't running the plates. The issue — which WASN'T being done already — is the amount and kind of data being funneled into a federal database and kept forever and ever, amen.

gramafun

Since no one seems to know WHAT the information will be used for there seeems to be a great deal of speculation on what the information WILL be used for...including mapping out what we do with our lives. I am really surprised at Ms Coles paranoid attitude and outrage without a shred of evidence. Lets not jump to conclusions. Would it not be better to REMOVE the cameras and ASK some questions FIRST before jumping to all these conclusions? I would think so. If the cameras aren't doing what they were told they would do to the police...remove them and call the Feds. Don't put them back on until you get the right answers. Pardon the pun but lets not make a federal case out of this until we get some facts.

zachfromsandusky2

2013 - 6:34PM
Okay I'm just Houghton clear this crap up now for everyone! The cameras mounted on the cruiser read multiple license plates and run the plate through local state and nationwide law enforcement information databases that immediately tell the officer If the vehicle has been stolen, Is wanted by an agency regarding a criminal investigation, If the registered owner has active warrants or If the vehicle has been linked to an amber alert. All of this information was already accessible and has been since agencies began using mobile data terminals (mdt's) or in layman's term laptops in cruisers. Ever seen an officer using the CPU while stopped at a red light and wondered what he is doing? He is running a license plate into leads to find out the above listed information. The mounted cameras are simply running license plates at an astonishing pace, something an officer can't do while entering plates manually by typing them. These cameras are much more efficient and much safer as the officer can focus on driving instead of typing with one hand and driving with the other. These cameras are doing anything that wasn't already being done already other than working much faster than a human can!

itypedformiles

If you live in Sandusky, and are being scanned in Sandusky I am not sure what the problem is. Do you think the government isn't aware that you already live in Sandusky? Also if you are taking the time to post comments I am fairly confident you aren't doing anything that would be of any importance to the feds.

Mystery_Cheese

It's an old saying, but when you sacrifice liberty for safety, you lose both.

shucks

If you sacrifice safety for whatever screwed up ideas you have about liberty -- You die.

This is how Ben Franklin originally wrote it :

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Nemesis

"If you sacrifice safety for whatever screwed up ideas you have about liberty -- You die."

Only in your mathematically illiterate conception of risk.

shucks

"Only in your mathematically illiterate conception of risk."

......................Explain your illiterate concept of "liberty".

reporter54

Thank you SamAdams. You said it for me. Ottawa County plans not to use them either. Tell the government and Homeland Security we won't stand for this invasion of privacy.

zachfromsandusky2

You do know the information that is accessed by these cameras has been available for many many years already by the officer manually entering your license plate into his laptop in the cruiser right? Of course you don't or u wouldn't make asinine comments like this (I would hope)!

looking around

You mentioned before that it is used also to determine if a suspended driver is on the road? No wonder my bud who was serving out his suspension for DUI he has yet to be found guilty of had his car followed and pulled over with his licensed driver whom is providing him with chauffeur service was at the wheel. Just another reason to randomly pull over cars.

Mr. D

According to the News herald yesterday, Ottawa County Sheriff is removing theirs. Homeland apparently never told them information was being fed to a super data base.

FlyBoy86

If you saw Kiefer Sutherland at Cedar Point, would you run away screaming?

arnmcrmn

The problem is.....nobody knows but those high up in the government what this data collecting is being used for.

I for one am against it.

shucks

Don't you people (the paranoids) want to be protected from terrorists and criminals?

Roger15

Don't you GET it?

WE ARE THE CRIMINALS !

shucks

No, I DON'T get it. Speak for yourself.

2cents

To be a terrorist you first need to be interviewed by the FBI because you are thought to be a high risk. Then you go to another country to train how to make bombs to kill Americans. Next you come back to America and begin building these bombs but the FBI does not track you because they are tracking grandma driving her car to the grocery. Now that you have made your bombs and feel comfortable because the FBI has cleared you, you find Americans to kill. See how simple, just be a real terrorist and you can get away with it.

Now back in the 50's and 60's if you were a agent on a mission from the other side things would be different. There would be surveillance and after you were identified you were treated with all the respect you deserved. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6...

shucks

(USA PATRIOT) stands for Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.

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