Letter to the Editor: Response to anti-camera surveillance opinion

The editorial opinion article posted on-line on June 22, 2017, written by News Editor, Kunal Mehta, again contains a number inaccuracies and misconceptions.

On the same day the opinion piece was posted, I attended the La Voz Open Forum, in the Fireside Room, in the Hinson Campus Center. I availed myself to the open forum and asked La Voz staff to partner with the District Police Department, in helping keep the campus community safe. I referenced a poll conducted by students in a De Anza Political Science class and it appears this is the basis for Mr. Mehta’s opinion article.

The student survey recommended that De Anza install video cameras in the parking lots, to increase student safety. Let me address the specific issue of video cameras and video surveillance in general. Mr. Mehta alleges that the use of video cameras and its associated recordings would be a “stalker’s paradise”. He further states there are “well documented incidents all around the country of law enforcement abusing their access to cameras to stalk, blackmail or gawk at citizens.” However, he fails to provide any examples of this behavior. Mr. Mehta likely used the ACLU’s article (https://www.aclu.org/other/whats-wrong-public-video-surveillance) that cites several isolated incidents, including several references to system abuses in the UK and not the US. Here are some well documented facts;

1) School officials may observe and record what they lawfully can see with the naked eye. The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. (https://nasro.org/…/Video-Surveillance-The-Right-To-Privacy-and-Safe-Schools.pdf)

2) According to Security Info Watch, an industry publication, it was estimated that in 2016, there would be approximately 62 million security camera in use. (http://www.securityinfowatch.com/news/12251875/report-installed-base-of-security-

3) In an on-line article, Investigation ID’s “Crime Feed” reports; “An average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. You probably don’t even notice it happening. From your neighbor’s home surveillance, to traffic cameras, to hidden lenses in the office elevator.” (http://crimefeed.com/2015/02/eyes-many-times-caught-surveillance-cameras-per-

The use of video surveillance in campus parking lots will improve safety and security of persons and vehicles in those lots. The potential of abuse exists in all technology used today, but the benefits greatly outweigh the minimal amount of reported abuses. Any future program would of course include the appropriate safeguards, which is “best practices.” In a document prepared by the Constitution Project, a bipartisan nonprofit organization that seeks consensus on controversial legal and political issues through scholarship and advocacy, they recommend, “Create technological and administrative safeguards to reduce the potential for misuse and abuse of the system” and “Provide appropriate remedies for those harmed by misuse or abuse of public video surveillance systems.” (www.constitutionproject.org/…/Video_Surveillance_Guidelines_Report_w_Model_Legislation4.pdf)

I would also like to address Mr. Mehta’s assertion that “we’d all hope that our police force is above reproach, we all know that is not the case.” Mr. Mehta, I can attest that as of today, there have not been any sustained Citizen’s Complaints against any of our Police Officers serving on our Department.

In fact, the number of Citizen Complaints is extremely low. Just because a person voices their displeasure on how a law enforcement-citizen interaction was conducted, it does not mean the officer acted improperly. Police Officers are held to a very high standard of conduct and I expect nothing less than professionalism from my staff. When they violate that standard, they will be held accountable.

According to the California Department of Justice, approximately 10% of non-criminal Citizen Complaints against California Peace Officers are sustained (http://ag.ca.gov/cjsc/publications/candd/cd06/tabs/2006Table56.pdf). You are entitled to your opinion, but I have the responsibility to correct the facts about the conduct of the members of our Department. In this case sir, you are wrong.

I’d also like to address the statement, “We would end up needing an increased De Anza police force that just monitored camera screens instead of going out into the community and interacting with citizens.” Unfortunately, Mr. Mehta has not done his homework. The Foothill – De Anza District Police Department already monitors a variety of video cameras at the Foothill, De Anza and Sunnyvale campuses. The initial review is done by non-sworn Police Dispatchers and not Police Officers. While the potential increase in the number of cameras does present challenges, it has no effect on Police Officer staffing.

The District Police Department has always advocated for the increased use of video cameras across the entire college district. De Anza has traditionally resisted the use of video cameras, except in very specific areas of concern. Any decision to install cameras in the De Anza parking lots would no doubt go through the collaborative, “shared governance” process, so everyone’s concerns would be heard and addressed.