Cleveland increasing surveillance to reduce crime, raising civil liberties concerns

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CLEVELAND - The City of Cleveland is turning to increased video and audio surveillance in its efforts to deter, detect and solve crimes, but some people are raising concerns about privacy.

1,000 surveillance cameras are being installed across the city in conjunction with new LED streetlights as part of the city's Safe Smart CLE initiative.

City safety leaders told council's Public Safety Committee Wednesday that the first cameras are being installed at all recreation centers and several parks.

Cameras have been deployed at the Zelma George Watson, Michael J. Zone, John F. Kennedy and Estabrook Recreation Centers.

"The current deployment has resulted in a safer city," said Police Chief Calvin Williams. "I think it's resulted in things that help our detectives solve crimes."

City officials said additional cameras will be placed in high crime areas, at dangerous intersections and in business districts, but they did not provide specific locations to council.

"They're all going to be in the public right-of-way," said committee chairman Matt Zone. "They're not going to be peering into anyone's living room. They're not going to be looking in anyone's car."

The committee also voted to authorize a two-year pilot program which will deploy sensors that detect gunfire, provided by a $400,000 grant from the Cleveland Police Foundation.

The sensors will be used in a three square mile, high-crime section of Cleveland Police's Fourth District on the city's east side. They detect the percussion of gunshots and notify police for rapid response, city officials said.

Several other Ohio cities, including Canton, Youngstown and Toledo, currently use the technology.

"I think it's a great tool that the Fourth District will be able to utilize, to pilot, that will hopefully grow through the city," Williams said.

Several activist groups expressed concern about the efficacy of the technology in reducing crime, privacy invasion and the potential for unfair targeting of minority groups.

"If passed, what this legislation will accomplish is increased police presence and surveillance in a majority black community, neither of which will make communities safer. This is not the solution to gun violence in our city," several groups including the Ohio Student Association, Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Black Lives Matter Cleveland wrote in a letter to council members calling for the proposal to be rejected or delayed.

Kareem Henton with Black Lives Matter Cleveland said the technology will force interaction between citizens and police.

"Law enforcement is coming in under the assumption that shots have been fired, and it's going to be based off of technology that, to this date, has not been proven," Henton said.

Several members of the safety committee voiced support for the program while acknowledging the concerns expressed in the letter.

The committee voted to approve the program after adding language to the legislation requiring that the chosen vendor appear before council to address concerns and answer questions.

The program will go to full council for a vote.

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