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Campaign in Oakland pushing for greater control of police surveillance (bbc.com)
109 points by tagawa on Oct 1, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

"Instead of trying to repair these relationships we are just throwing more surveillance equipment at the problem. We are smart people here in Oakland. We have Silicon Valley right up the road and we just think all these new tools are going to solve our problems but it just doesn't work."

This is a really excellent quote. Technology does not solve human problems. Humans solve human problems - sometimes with the help of technology. Improving safety involves convincing citizens to trust police. Accepting distrust and working around it is not a viable solution.

This is at the heart of the principle of Genchi Genbutsu[0], from the Toyota Production System. "If the problem exists on the shop floor then it needs to be understood and solved at the shop floor"

And of course, the more general intuition that people should aim to fix problems not just symptoms.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genchi_Genbutsu

I interact a lot with legacy businesses and processes in my job. I think the Genba-based approach is absolutely more effective than others... with a caveat.

After actual process has been observed, understood, and solutions designed on the floor, those still need to be taken back up to be verified with management. In today's tall organizations, what's happening on the floor often doesn't reflect what should be happening. If there's a discrepancy, the reasons need to be understood and worked through. Otherwise you run the risk of overspecialization given the narrow focus of the worker on the floor (in the same way that you might with training data).

>We have Silicon Valley right up the road and we just think...

Silicon Valley is the wrong place to look for alternatives or for insight. Silicon Valley is all about gathering data --as much data as possible be it on their external "users" or even their internal workforce. Everything is solved with more data and more ways of collecting more useful data. Data gathering is in their blood.

> Improving safety involves convincing citizens to trust police.

Why is the onus on citizens to be convinced (with an assumption that police are actually trustworthy, but people just need to realize that)?

Trust first requires that the police are worthy of it. Given the daily incidences of police abuse, power trips, and violence, they're very far from earning that trust.

Technology amplifies power. Handing distrusted police more tech will simply amplify distrust.

A big problem is information asymmetry. Surveillance is done in secret. The privileged are excepted from data collection. Contracts are written to subvert the intent of transparency laws.

Those things have to stop before humans even get in the room to assess and solve the human problems.

I live in Oakland and I would love it if the police had more surveillance tools at their disposal. Of course oversight is important, but the current political climate is far too wary of surveillance in public areas. Many parts of Oakland have issues with violent crime, vandalism, and theft. Often, criminals get away because the police don't have the resources to track them.

For example: Just two nights ago, a crazy homeless man tried to assault me with cinder blocks. Had I not been able to outrun him, I'd certainly be in the hospital. I called the cops, but by the time they arrived, the man had taken off on bicycle. The police couldn't find him. He'll likely victimize quite a few more people before he's caught.

Last week, an intoxicated driver hit a parked car in front of my home and drove off. Cops couldn't track the car. The driver is still out there and still a danger to others.

On a bike ride a couple months ago, a driver got behind me in the bike lane and yelled that he would run me over. Again, no arrest.

The likelihood of being caught is incredibly low, and antisocial people know this. Better surveillance of public areas would increase the chance of arrest and discourage such psychopathic behavior. I'm having a really hard time imagining a scenario in which this cure is worse than the disease. It is other civilians who endanger my life on a monthly basis, not police.

I'm not convinced that survrillance tools will cure what appears to be a lack of effort from police. They probably have things they consider more important to investigate than your encounters in Oakland or the thousands of dollars of equipment I had stolen from myself and my startup a couple years ago. I'm confident that all of these things could be solved with data already available to the police, with a bit of investigative effort. I don't think more surveillance in their direct control would help.

I live in Oakland as well. The police here are not very good. They been under Federal oversight. There's a current sex scandal (involving a bunch of East Bay departments). We've run through several chiefs in short order. They were completely out of control during Occupy.

Surveillance hardware is just more toys. It's the culture that needs to be fixed. I'd like to see a bachelors degree (currently a GED) and Oakland residency required.

As I understand it, police often don't want to live and work in the same city. There's the risk of running into the guy they busted for slinging drugs while grocery shopping with spouse and kids, and avoiding that by living the next town over is an attractive proposition.

Requiring a degree is likely going to skew the racial mix of OPD more.

I think of it like a sales funnel:

1. A certain number of crimes are committed.

2. Of those, a certain number are relatively easy to solve (thanks to surveillance or dumb criminals or luck).

3. Of those, a certain number are actually solved by police. (Because they have the inclination and time to do so.)

I think improving (2) will help, even if (3) also needs work. Though in my experience, OPD has spent a significant amount of time and effort attempting to both document and solve crimes.

How will surveillance stop antisocial or crazy individuals from attacking others?

By the time there is a response the attack will already have happened, so surveillance will not prevent the attack. Crazy or mentally imbalanced individuls by definition do not care about legal consequences, they could attack you right in front of a cop, that's why they are crazy.

The idea that antisocial elements will be discouraged because of surveillance basically translates into a surveillance state as there is no way yet in the modern world to predict how, when and by who 'antisocial' behavior occurs.

So you are advocating monitoring everyone in all public places 24/7 the idea being anyone contemplating illegal action is aware of the surveillance and modifies their behavior.

Won't getting some body guards be a better option than attempting to inflict a surveillance state on everyone in your quest for absolute safety.

Reasonable people accept there is a cost and tradeoff for freedom and liberty. One can make a case for better policing but this option takes us straight to the bottom of the slippery slope.

> By the time there is a response the attack will already have happened, so surveillance will not prevent the attack. Crazy or mentally imbalanced individuls by definition do not care about legal consequences, they could attack you right in front of a cop, that's why they are crazy.

That proves too much. One can use the same justification to argue against police existing. Cops can't be everywhere at once, so they can't prevent attacks. They can only respond. And crazy people don't care about consequences, so why have police? The answer is that you want to minimize the number of crimes a person commits before being caught. Giving police better tools (in the form of recording what goes on in public spaces, subject to oversight) can help with that.

This is also borne-out by the number of private places with security cameras. These cameras don't stop people from committing crimes, but they do help police catch criminals. They're far more effective than eyewitness descriptions or composite sketches.

> So you are advocating monitoring everyone in all public places 24/7 the idea being anyone contemplating illegal action is aware of the surveillance and modifies their behavior.

No. I'm saying the current political climate is far too worried about police surveillance and not worried enough about violence perpetrated by civilians. It's like fearing shark attacks when the most common threat is drowning.

> Won't getting some body guards be a better option than attempting to inflict a surveillance state on everyone in your quest for absolute safety.

Please don't be absurd. Like most people, I can't afford bodyguards. And I'm not seeking absolute safety. I just don't want to be put in threatening situations on a monthly basis.

Better mental health services?

I really highly suggest you start reading some dashcam forums.

You'll see stories from people who have indisputable surveillance footage of crime, and are told that it's not worth the time it would take to investigate/arrest/prosecute, or that even a clear video of a vehicle and license plate is insufficient evidence if it doesn't also clearly capture an image of the driver (in most jurisdictions, the driver is guilty of infractions, not the vehicle's owner).

Similarly, you can find plenty of stories of thefts which were deemed too low-value (in absolute dollar amount) to be worth police effort despite on-property surveillance clearly showing perpetrators. And the same for other types of crime.

24/7/365 audio and video of every person in the city would not change this. If someone told you it would, that person was lying to you or was misinformed.

> On a bike ride a couple months ago, a driver got behind me in the bike lane and yelled that he would run me over. Again, no arrest.

Any bike lane enforcement in Oakland would be amazing. The bike lane on Mandela is perpetually used as overflow parking...

I don't honestly believe that the allocation of additional surveillance resources would have helped.

What's more likely, IMO, is that the crimes you described would never be solved even with millions of dollars in surveillance resources allocated to Oakland.

Also, this is one side of a story. Who's to say you aren't making things up, exaggerating, or even minimizing your provocation?

Do you think surveillance resources would have been best used solving a case of road rage? How many drones and cameras should have been used to bring justice to a mentally ill homeless man? Would you have preferred a helicopter was deployed to locate a damaged car that may or may not have struck your vehicle?

The truth about crime is that most of it goes unpunished, a fact every adult has to come to terms with eventually.

There aren't enough cameras in the world to stop a cop from filing your police report in a stack of paperwork and forgetting about it.

That's a very uncharitable reading of my comment. I'm curious how I could provoke someone into attacking me with cinder blocks or threatening to run me over while driving in a bike lane. To me, it sounds like you're either calling me a liar or victim-blaming.

I'm not saying the cops should have used expensive equipment like helicopters. But cameras –even stationary ones– could have recorded the license plate numbers (and perhaps faces) of the drivers. In the case of the homeless man's attack, the police spent a good couple of hours getting more information. They went around the neighborhood and knocked on doors asking for footage from security cameras. A more centralized system of surveillance cameras could have tracked the man's movements and helped the cops both find and identify him.

More automation and surveillance would not ensure these people were caught, but it would increase the likelihood enough to discourage such behavior.

Sounds like you might benefit from a cheap security camera on your bike, car, or backpack that can be started quickly. Must be cheap by now.

It's strange that the Port of Oakland was the driver behind this. Port surveillance for a container port is completely different from policing a city. Nobody lives at the port. Only authorized people, and not that many of them, are supposed to be there. Surveillance is mostly about containers, not people.

There's something missing in this story.

The Port of Oakland was the driver for this because it is critical infrastructure and was awarded funds by the federal government to secure itself. I'm not sure that's controversial. I'm also reminded of the sniper that fired on the PG&E power distribution apparatus south of San Jose and the investment that followed.

Monitoring the movements of people in an area as large as the Port of Oakland is actually correct surveillance. Think about it. If you were going to destroy the port or use it to further other goals, the first thing you'd do is turn or plant an authorized person. Literally step 1. You also need to watch merchant crews and activity near the port; surveillance is actually really hard, from experience, and I don't like seeing people think they know what's best like this and opining accordingly. There are valid uses for very strong surveillance even beyond containers here.

That it grew to the city is indeed interesting and concerning and worthy of discussion, but casino surveillance would absolutely blow your mind if you think you have a handle on infrastructure security. The type of stuff people are (probably correctly) resisting in broader Oakland are actually exactly what you want for securing a port, datacenter, military base, and so on.

Bringing the point back to the Hacker News crowd: if it's easy for you to enter your datacenter, shop for a new datacenter. I appreciate vehicle barricades having to be lowered once I present biometrics to enter a datacenter, and you should too. Facial recognition to go on the floor is not unheard of. You should want that. Same reason you should want strong surveillance on a port.

The city said it needed an early warning system to give "first responders" a head start when dealing with emergencies like chemical spills and earthquakes, as well as major crime and terrorist incidents.

Ok, then only allow Fire and EMT folks to monitor the cameras and ban all other uses or reporting of the footage. In fact, it probably shouldn't be kept unless there is an active safety (e.g. Fire, NTSB, etc) investigation using it.

Then I might, possibly believe this statement.

I doesn't seem to me that having what I consider a reasonable retention period would be too bad, where "reasonable" is on the order of 7-30 days. If a person hasn't reported a crime within that time, then the tapes (or drives or whatever) are wiped. Any shorter than 7 days, and you risk the person being in a state of shock/in a period of "I should report this - no, wait, I don't want any trouble - no wait, it could happen to other people," etc.

I like the idea of a TEMPORARY city wide footage, say everything not part of an active investigation expunged after a month. It should in no way by indexed by the individuals or objects within it, but instead just the location and time.

If you are solving a crime, a human finding the suspects from the area, and tracking them out through the footage should be worth the results. If you aren't willing to spend that effort than it surely isn't a truly important thing you wanted to get from that data.

What keeps foreign intelligence, whether under the direction of U.S. intelligence or not, from infiltrating the system and exfiltrating the goodies?

The same thing that keeps the users of the system on the level in the first place.

A good design with rigorous publicly validated (published) oversight.

Very interesting article but the title is clickbait at best and Big Brother propaganda at worst. The NSA is still as strong as ever in Oakland. Corporations are still selling spy cameras and microphones disguised as cell phones or entertainment centres. The population is still distracted by the lottery and by sports and by politics. Big Brother plays tricks where it makes you think you're not being surveilled by 'losing' public battles. But it does not lose. Articles written to make the citizens feel good about the current state of increasing surveillance are likely written by friends of Big Brother.

Neither Oakland nor any other US city has, or ever will, "beat" Big Brother. Not unless there is global systemic change and current surveillance powers are ended.

There's literally nothing other than angry Twitter accounts for a three letter agency to monitor in Oakland. I'm sure the NSA cares about the plight of CVS managers whose stores get vandalized in the inevitable riots.

Now, I can see the NSA much more concerned about spying about 35 miles southwest of Oakland.

Over all, I am actually in favor of surveillance in public spaces. If you're in public, you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy—I, as a private citizen, could also easily track and follow your public movements throughout the day.

From the equipment catalogue, this seems very alarming though:

> These use radar to peer through the walls of buildings - currently precise enough to show how many people are in a particular room.

How is that not blatantly unconstitutional? The Supreme Court has consistently affirmed a right to privacy in your own home and that the police cannot use technology to circumvent that right without a warrant.

A good article. As a resident of Oakland, I can say that it is well reported+sourced, especially for something from the other side of the globe.

A couple of things about Oakland. The OPD has been under Federal oversight for more than a decade stemming from the Riders cases in 2000. The Port of Oakland is 5th in the US with about 2.2M TEUs of shipping. The local economy has really taken off post-recession. I liked Quan and I really like Schaaf but Dellums was less than a nothing; he actually stopped going in to work.

Surveillance can solve a lot of problems. If you have a drone following everyone and rapid response teams you can literally stop crime. You can then start working on analysing all the data and working on pre-crime, ml and smart prediction.

Millions of freedom loving software developers can be gainfully employed working on this.

Let's get real, the average person does not commit crime, nor do they have any real need for privacy or freedom of speech. Are they activists, or protestors? So what use privacy or free speech fo the general person going about life? Why not trade it for the posssibility of improving safety and quality of life for everyone?

It's of course not compatible with a modern democratic state but that's just idealogy. Safety first.

> A deprived port city

As a current resident of Oakland I'm not sure I'd describe the city as 'deprived,' but please, do continue BBC...

Oh the irony, the surveillance is too much, let's put more surveillance in place.

We changed the linkbait title to one of the photo captions (sometimes a good place to look for more neutral descriptions of the content), to which we added 'Oakland' and 'police'.

If you want to learn more or participate, checkout http://oaklandprivacy.org/

Beat big brother. But certainly didn't beat crime.

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