ELPD Collaborates with ACLU on New Surveillance Technology Policy

Friday, October 20, 2017, 4:59 am
Alice Dreger

Above: ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez (left) and Chief Larry Sparkes.

The East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) is looking to put into effect a new policy for the acquisition and use of surveillance technology. This week, Chief Larry Sparkes and Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez attended City Council’s work session to go over the draft policy and procedures, with Council indicating support. The policy was developed in collaboration with the Lansing Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The stated purpose of the policy “is to establish police surveillance technology acquisition and use guidelines” for ELPD. Examples of modern police surveillance technology include drones with cameras, license-plate capture systems that automatically record and log where cars have been, and video cameras mounted in public locations.

The draft policy document indicates that “the police department recognizes that such equipment has a legitimate role in law enforcement investigations” but also acknowledges “that the acquisition and use of surveillance technology can jeopardize the public trust…placed in the East Lansing Police Department.”

Sparkes tells ELi that the policy has been produced in the interest of transparency and also in having checks and balances on local policing. The policy restricts the use of surveillance technology to “legitimate law enforcement purposes,” namely “active criminal or traffic investigation[s] conducted by a departmental employee.”

In terms of acquisition of new technologies, under the policy, the Chief will first establish that a technology “has a legitimate law enforcement purpose” and will then “consult with the City Manager’s office for approval and notification” prior to acquisition. Staff will be trained in the uses and purposes of devices, and the use of such equipment will be documented in case reports of active criminal investigations.

When data is “collected by surveillance technology…not related to an active criminal investigation,” as is the case sometimes with recordings from body cameras and dashboard cameras, “data collected from these devices should be retained” according to the policies for those specific technologies.

The policy specifies that the “collection of data through the use of surveillance technology shall be done in accordance with current protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Gonzalez tells ELi he expects it to go into effect shortly. Says Gonzalez, “The East Lansing Police Department has a long-standing tradition of community outreach and service. Furthermore, we understand that we must continually work to maintain the public trust of our department.” He says that in this case, the aim has been “to reassure the community we serve that they can have full faith and confidence” in their police department.