Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Who has power with body cameras, the cops or you?

The Minnesota Legislature is being pushed hard by law enforcement interests to make much body camera video unavailable to the public  The Senate has already passed a bill making secret a fair amount of body camera video.  Law enforcement is pushing hard for secrecy because they want to keep from the public the ability to monitor police prejudice, abusive/abrasive behavior and practices, and the dual standard of law enforcement that is in our community.  Bottom line, law enforcement does not want the public to have the power to do the oversight of accountability of law enforcement with the new tool of body cameras.

There is power with the use of body cameras, in viewing hours of body camera videos, I see how it can be used by the public to truly use as a tool to have appropriate control over conduct by police, to help eliminate of abusive and abrasive practices by cops, and to counteract the dual standard of law enforcement in our community which has permeated for years.  The videos I watched would all become secret if the Senate's version of the body camera bill becomes law.

A representative of law enforcement recently compared body cameras to cans of mace - making the point that they are both tools for police. The body camera is not just any tool, however.  It may be a tool for law enforcement, but it is also a tool for public accountability - but only if the data is available to the public.

There is power with the use of body cameras, who has that power and the rules of it is going to be front and center next legislative session.  Right now law enforcement may have an edge to have less public accountability, less transparency, and have the power with the use of body cameras, unless the public gets involved.

Personal note:
If anyone is interested to have me speak to a group, organization, or anyone on the issue of body cameras contact me: ranneu12@yahoo.com or follow me with a message on Twitter @richneumeister

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

St Paul Library destroying materials of our city's history?

Fast on the heels of the City's of St Paul recent decision to purge it's government e-mails every three months comes a new revelation: the St Paul Public Library is in the process of deciding to trash thousands upon thousands of historical newspaper clippings.

For decades, the library has maintained a "Subject Morgue File" collection.  It consists of newspaper clippings from the St Paul Pioneer Press and the St Paul Dispatch, and it dates from the first part of the twentieth century - 1910-1945.  Due to its painstaking subject-by subject file arrangement, the collection represents the only searchable repository of local news from the time period.  A collection of historical value that could be part of the St Paul Collection.

The clippings it seems were loaned to the library by the Pioneer Press to be used by researchers and interested members of the public.  For the past several years, however, the files have been kept away from public view, and now library management seems intent on destroying them permanently.

There are many questions to be asked here: Why is the library so intent on gutting, rather than preserving and displaying (St Paul Collection), this unique collection?  Are the collection of clippings, able to be wiped out if it is someone else's property?

St Paul has been considered the half of the Twin Cities that has retained its sense and appreciation of history, even as its twin to the West has continued to plow its past under.  The St Paul Library (St Paul) now tossing that sensibility to the wind by throwing more and more of its history down Orwell's "memory hole?"

There needs to be involvement by the Library Board and the public as the library makes such decisions to have such a vital source of local history disappear.  Move quickly, decision may be made at the end of the  week

Friday, October 16, 2015

St Paul ripping off public on parking meters already?

Sometimes I go to the Amsterdam Bar and Hall for a beer and fries on Friday's.  Today after I left this unique St Paul place, I noticed that people were trying to pay the meter collector on Wabasha St.  I know that parking is free in downtown after 5:00pm.  So I said it's free.  They said no, there is signage on the meter that says til 10:00pm, the public has to pay.

Lo and behold, there was new signage on the meters on the west side of Wabasha Street, for two blocks straight saying that.  My understanding is that the new rates were not going to take place til early January.  Between 6th and 5th streets there was no notice stating that the new rates do not start til January, 2016.  I saw a small yellow sheet serving as notice between 5th and 4th.  Very hard to see.

As I continued south (walking) on Wabasha, I heard a woman say "Do you have any quarters?' to a party with her.  I wonder if the parking meter collector took her quarters?  How much can the City make for the 2015 budget, with this kind of ploy?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not use cost as reason for secrecy with body cams

In the underbelly of discussion with body cameras in Minnesota is the "it costs too much money" argument.  The bemoaning and griping of many law enforcement and local government officials can be heard before the Legislature, city councils, and other venues.  Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, has said to the Star Tribune protecting "departments from costly and time-consuming editing" from public data requests, is one reason why they support in the Legislature, HF430/SF498.  The bill makes basically all videos collected by body cameras private or not public.  In the same article, Mr. Skoogman says the bill "keeps police accountable....." I am scratching my head on that one.  How can a police department be accountable and transparent with its behavior to the public if most of the body camera video is not public to the community?

Words about cost is one of the major rationale to keep the videos secret.  In a recent application to the Commissioner of Administration to make most body camera videos secret, less accessible to the public, signed by 24 cities, uses an excuse that access to the general public will bring "exorbitant cost involved with responding to requests...."  A group of law enforcement officials and cities are trying for the second time to go around the Legislature to make data collected form the body cameras not public.

I have been told by a law enforcement official,  a major motivation to keep body camera video, not public, is the cost factor, particularly with smaller cities other than Minneapolis and St Paul.  The person described the financial pressure to review and redact the videos may cause.  Some local political subdivisions will not buy body camera systems unless there is less body camera videos available to the public, the authority commented.  Rationale for secrecy!

Under current law, a fair amount of body camera video is not available to the public.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act gives law enforcement ample leeway to not disclose recordings to protect ongoing investigations and individuals privacy. But many others want to go way beyond that pushing to keep videos from the public to a point gouging increased accountability and transparency.

There is a compelling need for civic accountability with law enforcement agencies.  Arguments to make body camera video not accessible to the populous based on cost is ill-advised and uncalled for.  It undermines the body camera idea to advance faith and confidence between the public and law enforcement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

BCA does not want you to know how much they spend on spy devices


It is no secret that Minnesota law enforcement generally wants to keep hidden from the people new technology that does surveillance and monitoring of people.  Just review the past several years of this blog on matters such as Stingray, Kingfish, and to some extent license plate readers, among other topics I have written about.

 It was through data request's that I found out that at least the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), even though the data was limited, owned or operated cellular exploitative devices, such as Kingfish and Stingray.  It took the Legislature with questions that more information was given.

 But even today the public and Legislature does not know the amount taxpayers has spent or will spend on the Stingray and similar devices since 2014. (See document above, page 7,  part of BCA/Harris Corp contract)  The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has told me and the Star Tribune that having knowledge of public dollars spent would be too much info for the bad guys to know.  They have even refused to give the general amount spent.  As Drew Evans, ‎Assistant Superintendent of BCA, stated to the Star Tribune in written form:

"This would not only endanger the lives and physical safety of law enforcement officers and other individuals, but also adversely impact criminal investigations,” Evans wrote. “Disclosure of this information could result in the BCA’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because, through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations.”

So here we have an agency that will neither tell elected officials or the public the general amount spent on devices that can intercept conversations and text messages of people with auxiliary equipment and upgrades such as the "Fishhawk: or "Porpoise", and that collects data on innocent people who may be in the area of the target.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to spurn and mock the public's and Legislature's right to know how much it spends on technology that has an acute and extreme involvement with our privacy and civil liberties only undermines the Bureau's credibility.

As I know by the Star Tribune's and my past experience in trying to get the Harris Corporation contract and FBI disclosure agreement, the credibility of BCA with me had never been at it's lowest.

Confidently, the public and legislators will begin to realize the BCA's efforts to hide the amount of public $$$ is not because of criminals and terrorists.  The Bureau does not want you to know because they do not want the accountability and inquiry, they so deeply and crucially need on matters of public dollars spent on surveillance technologies that compromise our autonomy, privacy, and civil liberties.

NOTE: This is the full agreement of the contract between the Harris Corporation and the BCA.  Also included is the FBI non-disclosure agreement.  Courtesy of the Star Tribune.