APD to Access Surveillance Cameras - TribPapers

APD to Access Surveillance Cameras

Antanette Mosley says there was not a single person at a housing authority meeting who opposed entering into the interlocal agreement to allow the Asheville Police Department to access surveillance camera features. Screenshot.

Asheville – During Asheville City Council’s public comment period, Tiffany Davis, who lives in Hillcrest, said she was concerned about children getting off school buses. She said there had been a lot of shooting in Hillcrest. People shoot into occupied apartments and vehicles, hers among them. She expressed gratitude that city council listened to Hillcrest residents’ complaints, resulting in members of the police department “showing up,” but she said, “We need a little more security.” She then asked for what purpose all the cameras had been installed, observing that nobody had been able to tell her anything about the crimes perpetrated against her place and property.

She was followed by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s Executive Director, David Nash. He wished to corroborate what Hillcrest’s residents were saying. He said camera surveillance was important when something was going on, like the shootings. A police presence is also important. He, too, thanked council and the police department for their cooperation and for listening to the residents instead of the “voices” that say public housing is overpoliced because public housing remains underpoliced in several places. He said public housing is a place people feel safe using their weapons. It’s not residents of public housing that cause trouble, but outsiders. Summer nights, especially when the bars and clubs close, are prime time. Nash added he was not asking for “rough and tumble” policing or tail light enforcement. He just wanted a deterring presence.

Regulars Nina Tovish and Grace Barron-Martinez shared concerns about civil liberties violations associated with the cameras installed in public housing. Tovish said the software had facial recognition capabilities that she was told were turned off but could be turned on again by a new administration or even a hacker. She said people were within their rights to be concerned about a surveillance state because it is a warrantless system. Barron-Martinez drew from documents provided to her by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing the cameras violate the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She also asked that council support the Community Control over Police Surveillance Bill, for which the ACLU has a template. Barron-Martinez said she had intended to discuss this during public comment at the city’s Environment and Safety Committee meeting, but distrust was only heightened when those coming to speak were not allowed to do so. Both Tovish and Barron-Martinez wanted more opportunities for members of the public to weigh in before council approved an item on the consent agenda.

After the item was pulled from the consent agenda, Assistant City Manager Ben Woody spoke about the FUSUS real-time criminal intelligence camera system, which works with cameras Buncombe County has already installed on various public buildings. Council was being asked to approve entering into an interlocal agreement with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office for the installation of FUSUS cameras on city property and, in return, for the Asheville Police Department to have access to all system cameras within the city limits, except those pertinent to Buncombe County Schools, and all software features. For access, the city would pay $30,000 annually.

Councilwoman Kim Roney said she had requested a copy of the full interlocal agreement but had only received one 85 minutes before the meeting. She wanted a policy governing the use of FUSUS so the city could ensure equitable services, and she was told the sheriff’s office had one but the police department would have to draft its own. Roney said she wanted to know how the city would go about requesting access, as several people had had their windows broken downtown and they would probably like to see the footage.

Mayor Esther Manheimer said cameras were already in the schools and “lots of places.” For now, the city was only interested in installing cameras at City Hall, Pritchard Park, and the intersection of Lexington and Hiawassee. These sites were selected for the visibility they provide in high-crime areas. The city wanted to be very public about their installation because they were intended to serve as deterrents. Private property owners were interested in using FUSUS with cameras on their buildings as well. Then, more was said about software settings that shouldn’t have swayed anybody concerned about civil liberties because they knew the settings could be changed at any time.

Antanette Mosley interrupted and said council could continue to speculate about best- and worst-case scenarios, “but I want to focus on the point Tiffany made about what’s happening right now to a vulnerable part of our community.” She said nobody at the meeting about which Davis and Nash spoke expressed any negativity toward the interlocal agreement. Mosley said outsiders liked to tell residents of public housing that they don’t know what they need. People were concerned not about the cameras but about who was looking at the footage, and, positively, the interlocal agreement would give the APD better access to those cameras.

She then read the top policy recommendation from the housing authority’s annual report. “Listen to actual housing authority residents’ requests and recommendations for immediate solutions to deteriorating public safety in their communities, respond to those requests, and in the long term, increase local law enforcement funding and staffing to support proactive community policing like the Camden Model.”

Roney asked if there was any intention to expand the number of cameras and, if so, a deeper community conversation was in order. To that, Mosley replied that residents of public housing are having those conversations every month, but members of council are not listening to them. “This is not some esoteric discussion. When I say we’re talking about life and death issues, that’s what we’re talking about.”

Councilwoman Maggie Ullman argued in favor of the cameras on the basis of reducing emergency response time and helping capture perpetrators, especially when APD staffing is so low. Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore added that the agreement called for frequent reviews and granted the right to terminate should things go bad. After Roney attempted to postpone a decision, she cast the lone vote against entering into the agreement.