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Monday, April 9, 2012


Here’s a recent quote from CMPD Deputy Chief Harold Medlock, head of DNC 2012 Security, as he discusses DNC 2012 security purchases, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department command center, new surveillance cameras being installed all over Charlotte, and the secrecy surrounding purchases and activities of the police department and other city employees.  Please consider these statements as you read the rest of the information in this post.
“It’s right for today in March 2012,”
Medlock said of the command center.
“It’ll be right in September.
It’s going to be right for years to come.”

When WCNC’s Diane Gallagher toured CMPD’s new Command Center last month, it was a hint of things to come, and really opened many more questions than it answered.
Deputy Chief Harold Medlock said, “We have hundreds of law enforcement officers, hundreds of firefighters being driven by the decisions being made in that room right now.” 
It’s probably the ongoing decision-making that should be of biggest concern.  As a concept, having a central location to coordinate urgent communications sounds like a good one, and CMPD’s Chief Monroe has said he is ready to be in charge of the upcoming operation for DNC 2012 –-even if some of the details he gave of his prior work experience are not quite correct.

Gallagher and others have reported the Com Center has cost $1.76 million, funded by grant money, but city officials have repeatedly refused to release these and other public spending records.  Also, $600,000 of Asset Forfeiture money, not just grants, was assigned to overhaul the Com Center, and the city won’t say if that’s in addition, or part of the same funds.
Meghan Cooke covered the unveiling of the new Com Center for the Charlotte Observer in March as well as First Lady Michelle Obama visited and “in addition to the normal staff contingent of CMPD, CFD, CMUD, the Sheriff's Dept., and CDOT both the FBI and the Secret Service were in town” … and in the Com Center. 
At the front of the command center is a huge video screen with 18 monitors stretching almost the length of the room. Most of the monitors show live feeds from video surveillance cameras placed around uptown. One shows the inside of the transit center just up the street. Another zooms in and out on Sixth Street, where uniformed officers could be seen talking to passers-by.
Other monitors feature numbers and graphs showing the number of arrests made in the vicinity of this weekend’s CIAA events.
Designed for DNC security needs, the command center has space for about 50 people. The department’s previous center held only 24, Medlock said. The additional space brings representatives from various agencies within shouting distance of each other and allows them to coordinate quickly.
How will the extra space and equipment in the new Com Center be used after the convention?  Will all the additional agencies and equipment still be used?  What is happening with the previous Com Center, which was equipped in some manner for 24 people and monitoring equipment? 

He said that the department would release all spending information after the convention.
As Mecklenburg County’s head administrative Judge Lisa Bell has said, much of the DNC spending information redacted already should not have been.  Of course, in matters that truly involve compromising security, those should be withheld, but the City has proven it chooses not to follow Public Records Law, and made a point to say they are not even apologetic for it.  After all, they won’t even fess up about the Porta-Jon contracts.

According to figures released by the city last month, the cost to create the command center makes up most of the nearly $2 million spent so far. The department has spent $1.73 million on the command center, including $736,000 to “upfit” the space and $965,000 on new video monitors, hardware, software and a “digital media content management system.”
Police have said they also plan to purchase additional surveillance cameras to put up around Charlotte before the convention. They’ll be able to monitor those new cameras from the command center.

Police won’t say how many cameras, what type of cameras, or where the cameras will be placed. 

This whole ongoing secrecy and growing violations is in contrast to Tampa’s handling of the RNC security and public records concerns.

In Talking Points Memo by Jillian Rayfield on January 25, 2012,How the 2012Conventions Will Leave A Permanent Surveillance And Security Footprint In HostCities,” summarizes:

… But Tampa is likely to add eyes to places other than its helicopters. Last Wednesday, six companies submitted proposals to the city for a contract that could be worth up to $2 million to install surveillance cameras in the downtown area, where the conference will be held.
.  .  .
The Times reports that Tampa initially planned to purchase 238 cameras including high-tech gadgetry like helmet cameras, and two unmanned drones. But with a potential price tag of $5 million, the city decided to scrap its plan for the fancy stuff and just put in an order for 60 cameras.
.  .  .

A spokesman for the Tampa PD said that the city has “not determined yet” whether the cameras will stay up after the convention, but depending on how much it will cost to maintain them, the city will determine whether to rent or buy.

But one City Council member, Mary Mulhern… found it “worrisome” that the city is looking to buy the cameras. “What that says to me is that they will install these for the convention and they will be permanent, which I am opposed to and I will not support.”

“I will need to see some evidence that this is even useful,” she said. Mulhern added that it is possible that installing cameras could help a protester who claims mistreatment by the police, if he or she is able to review the video footage. “But will the public have access to that?

There’s a lot of questions,” she said.
At this point, Charlotte has been much less forthcoming about its security plans for the convention, set to kick off on September 3.  Robert Tufano from the Police Chief’s office at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told TPM that so far the city has spent $1.9 million of the federal grant money. This includes $965,000 for technology, $765,000 for equipment, $131,000 for facilities and $10,000 for travel. Tufano said he could not elaborate further for security reasons, and that further information won’t be released until the week after the convention.

Charlotte’s secrecy in other areas has reached into articles in the New York Times as well, and citynewswatch would bet many citizens here as well as other areas of the country were previously unaware of the practices exposed:


Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times just wrote a comprehensive article (March 31, 2012) Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool exposing the widespread and largely unknown practice of cell phone companies turning over our records to police departments, without warrant or even notification, just for the asking.

In California, state prosecutors advised local police departments on ways to get carriers to “clone” a phone and download text messages while it is turned off.

The article continues:
Cell carriers, staffed with special law enforcement liaison teams, charge police departments from a few hundred dollars for locating a phone to more than $2,200 for a full-scale wiretap of a suspect, records show.

Most of the police departments cited in the records did not return calls seeking comment. But other law enforcement officials said the legal questions were outweighed by real-life benefits.

Many departments try to keep cell tracking secret, the documents show, because of possible backlash from the public and legal problems. Although there is no evidence that the police have listened to phone calls without warrants, some defense lawyers have challenged other kinds of evidence gained through warrantless cell tracking.

Do not mention to the public or the media the use of cellphone technology or equipment used to locate the targeted subject,” the Iowa City Police Department warned officers in one training manual. It should also be kept out of police reports, it advised.

Another training manual prepared by California prosecutors in 2010 advises police officials on “how to get the good stuff” using cell technology.

His article included documents released by the ACLU proving that police departments around the country are frequently accessing cell phone data.  No probable cause, no exigent circumstances, just rooting around for information without a warrant.

One of those documents is a letter the ACLU sent to the Chief Rodney Monroe of CMPD requesting information in August of last year, receiving this typical non-response back from CMPD attorney Judy Emken, essentially saying they wouldn’t give any information .  So far, half a year later, there is no update to give. 

The letter requiring more time to gather so many records seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that the practice is occurring here by Charlotte Mecklenburg Police.

Reviewing responses from cities that answered, it appears the ACLU asked 10 questions, roughly for

1.    specific policies, procedures or practices regarding how cell phone location records are obtained 
2.    data retention policies regarding cell phone location records or data bases in which they are placed or a list of the agencies with which cell phone location records can be shared.
3.    incidents whereby cellphone location records were important or of interest to investigations.
4.    incidents whereby cell phone location records were used to identify "all of the cellphone data at a particular location".
5.    records regarding its use of "digital fences" .
6.    if the legal standard used by the agency for obtaining cell phone location records are those standards required by law.
7.    records of judicial decisions or orders ruling on applications for cell phone location records.
8.    statistics regarding its use of cellphone location records.
9.    documents which reflects the form in which cell phone location records are provided
10.  documents regarding communications with cell phone companies and providers of location-based services regarding cell phone location records.

Consider what information is available on your phone.  Consider that most people use their “mobile devices” now to keep much more than merely every person, company or agency you may have been in touch with—or that it may appear you have contacted.  Many people have passwords, personal financial records, other confidential professional files, information about what you read, what prescriptions you refill, how you spend money, where you travel, family photos—when and where they were taken, and more.


Should police be permitted to download all of that data in under a minute ½ just because you were, say, pulled for speeding?  Stopped at a “Checkpoint”?

Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department has spent tens of thousands of dollars with a company called Cellebrite that sells devices which do exactly that.  There is no known policy in place for how such a device would be used, but citynewswatch would like to hear from CMPD if that is incorrect. 

Cellebrite literature explains that their devices can break password protection, work on over 3000 different models of mobile equipment and can 'Complete extraction of existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and geotags.'   The DOJ has tested the device to accomplish download of all phone, text, photo, and video in under 1 ½ minutes from mobile devices.

An ordinance passed by City Council on March 8, 2010, just prior to the Cellebrite expenditures totaling $25,000 against funds converted from Asset Forfeiture Funds to Public Safety Grant 4386-x.   There is no explanation except various programs and equipment for $370,000.  Compare this to the kind of detail other cities provide to the public and even to what Charlotte did a few years earlier, and the secrecy in police and other spending should raise alarm bells. 

You can review “Ordinances” on the page by searching for them and then checking by date.  They should be organized so that you can search by topic, and so that you can see what was actually purchased.  There should be public notice, discussion and debate of proposed expenditures before they are approved by Council, particularly in areas of civil liberties and law enforcement.  As it stands, you can’t even see the purchases after they are approved, and requests have been denied—violating public records law.  

However, look back a few years and see the difference between purchase descriptions then and now… “various programs and equipment.”

Here is an example of Santa Monica’s description for their City Council approval of a different type of security grant, a UASI grant which you will see Charlotte has recently received also, showing exactly what funds will be spent, how they will be spent, and where the charges will be attributed.

Charlotte's cameras are similar, but mounted on top of the car
Citynewswatch observed cameras similar to these mounted on the tops of some CMPD cars and was surprised to discover articles quoting they have been in use for some time.  It’s not just the use of the readers, but the building of databases that is very concerning.  These CMPD Standard Operating Procedures outline the storage of very personal data for at least 18 months from these cameras.  Researching these car-mounted cameras revealed another increasingly common practice in law enforcement wide and near:  pole-mounted cameras to capture every driver that passes a certain route, regardless of whether they are involved or suspected of involvement in any illegal activity.

Many law enforcement agencies are using USAI funds like the Santa Monica example cited above to purchase stationary cameras. 

See Mark Pellin’s story in Pundit House about UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative) grants.  Pellin talks about how $2.13 million in security funds have been “pocketed by the city” with almost no notice in the press.  The money will theoretically be administered by the Fire Department, but Homeland Security eligibility for UASI funds requires that 25% (according to UASI site) must be proved to be used for “law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.”  Pellin’s article refers to an email from Charlotte Fire Department Chief Jeff Dulin: 
“These funds will be used by the CMPD for purchasing equipment that will support their Bomb Squad, Special Weapons and Tactics Team, Civil Emergency Unit and Intelligence Unit,” Dulin explained in an email. “The equipment purchased with these funds will not only support terrorism prevention, but also the prevention of other crimes across the city.”

The City has recently explained how they will be spending $700,000 of those USAI funds, but gave no explanation (required) for sole-source exception to competitive bidding for the contracts. 
And what will they be spending the rest of the money on? 
Chief Monroe is fond of claims of preventing crime, but not of explaining how he’s doing that or giving the real crime information or any explanation of how he’s spending our money to do it.


Did you even know Charlotte had these devices?  Is your first thought “Good—an efficient way to catch criminals?”  The numbers on that are not in, but there are deeper questions, too.  

Data collected in a database downtown should fall under Public records law, unless it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

What if you make a public records request for the last 18 months of whereabouts of a soon-to-be ex-spouse?  Or your own car?  Or the Police Chief?  Or the City Manager?  Or City Council members?  Or lobbyists?  Salesman or developers?  Want to see who’s meeting in the same expensive restaurant regularly? Or hotel? 
What would happen to those requests?  Special treatment for some citizens… legal battles that would clog up courts and cost tax payers more money?

So, there may be a CMPD Standard Operating Procedure written to cover mobile license plate readers, and none in place to cover mounted readers, but there doesn’t seem to be any other policy in place to cover the data.  Even if there were, State Law trumps CMPD Policy, making all those records public.

The United States Constitution trumps all of this.

The legal challenges to come will certainly be overwhelming—once people are aware it’s happening.

What are police officers to do when given orders to carry out activities which are unconstitutional, such as unwarranted search and seizure?  They are to refuse and report.  This is not a case of “the end justifies the means.”  That’s why warrants and other legal processes are in place to track people and collect information.

Violations of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are not legal in Charlotte, N.C. any more than in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately it seems they may be going on and questions need to be asked.  We at least have the right to know.


Any argument involving expectation of privacy must come with the understanding that license plate readers collecting and storing data are not merely observing public activity in real time, but mounting a dossier of your activity with no probable cause to do so.  This IS an invasion of privacy that surpasses mere public observation.  The retention and distribution of that data, facilitated by the police and our government, should not be tolerated without proper warrant to do so.

If there is probable cause to suspect someone of a crime, or exigent circumstances where someone’s life is at stake and there’s a need for assistance to look for someone, those things can be accomplished legally.

Compiling a year-and-a-half long database of information that describes individually-identifiable travel schedules, patterns, and history amounts to cyber-stalking innocent people by our government, paid for by our tax money. 

Who are your friends, associates, people you may have met once and decided were bad news?

What are your political affiliations?  Social organizations?  Doctors you visited?  Have you participated in a protest rally for or against a controversial issue?  Have you gone to a union-organizing meeting that you would prefer your boss didn’t know about? (What if your boss is the police department, or the rest of the city government?)  Interview for a new job?  Have romantic involvement with someone you would rather not advertise?  Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings not anonymous anymore?  Have you met with a divorce attorney?  Defense attorney?  EEOC attorney?  When did you become a “whistleblower” for corrupt government practices—or maybe you’re just considering it?
Attorney’s offices, bars, treatment clinics, adoption facilities, FBI offices, gambling establishments, limitless examples of places the government has NO right to track and store your movements… but our government is doing exactly that.  They are collecting data that can formulate a picture of your life based on your movements—conclusions that can be incorrect as well. 
And Charlotte is planning to do more of it.

A year ½ later, you could find yourself in court for any number of reasons trying to defend yourself against explanations and “proof” that you were in locations the police have documented with these cameras most citizens know nothing about.  Most people have no reason to document their daily lives to refute such charges.  Maybe you just drove by one of those places often, or parked next door, or visited an employee, or applied for a job.  Maybe it wasn’t your car at all.  Most citizens haven’t got a clue this is going on. 

Citynewswatch hopes this will change.


pole-mounted reader
Washington, D.C. police installed mounted stationary license plate readers in many locations in the Metropolitan area, in adjunct to car readers already in use (as we have in Charlotte).  Citynewswatch found this presentation from June 15, 2011, about their experience, pros/cons of mobile and mounted systems and different vendors.  See especially slide # 13 which shows the example of a one-month reporting period for one officer:
Tags read (so recorded activity for those plates & stored data):  5327109

Total number of “hits”:  1750

Total number of hits accepted:  942

Total number of T.S.C. hits:  47

Number of resulting arrests:  blank, seemingly zero

But 5,327,109 records of individuals’ travels were created in one month and stored for whatever use.  As you will read next, the records were taken by private company.  Nobody knows what they did with the records, nor did they bother to find out. 
Slide #17 illustrates this problem clearly:

“NVLS and the DC Experience”

Vigilant Video reps contacted DC Command Staff with a pitch for the NVLS including hits from surrounding jurisdictions
• They also provided a mobile unit that was installed on an MPD It cruiser
We discovered they were capturing DC data from the LPR unit without permission; it was all supposed to be locally stored in the cruiser
• We directed them to scrub all DC data from their database
• When asked about how they got the data regarding wanted vehicles from MD and VA locations, which was clearly from NCIC, they said they got it from one of their clients but didn’t have to tell which one

When asked about their adherence to privacy and other standard policies, they said it didn’t pertain to them because they are a private company

• They said it was just like if they called our CIC telling us they found a stolen car, but when asked “how would they know it was stolen?”;   dead silence
• They were sent a cease and desist letter
Was there any follow up to determine if the data was “scrubbed?  Did the actions of this company constitute a crime—and was there even an investigation?  Or is it more likely the choice was to avoid making this gross violation of privacy, facilitated by the police, public knowledge? 

This was in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas.  What if terrorist cells decided to hack the records of the police department, or of this private company?  Was the investigation quashed—did it keep all of safer, or put all of us in more danger?

The SOP cited does not specifically exclude stationary cameras, but does not mention them either.  All the instructions refer to cameras mounted on cars, but information about purchases through grants indicates there will be stationary license plate readers mounted in numerous locations throughout Charlotte soon.

This reflection “Surveillance Society?” by Sarah Preston in Progressive Voices from 10/19/2010, is a little closer to home:
Unfortunately, North Carolinians can look forward to a further proliferation of ALPR (Automated License Plate Readers) since three of the four biggest retailers selling the technology have opened offices in North Carolina and police departments all over the state are investigating avenues to have the purchase the technology.
Let's hope state and local officials weigh in on this issue with a thorough study and thoughtful regulation. Everyone's for apprehending criminals but we shouldn't have to establish a "Big Brother" society in order to make it happen.
Here you can see a 5-page contract by Columbia, S.C. to purchase license plate readers that included both a detailed cost break down and a sole source requirement to use a company named LSAG, based on that company’s access to shared databases.  Again, the concerns are about what information is being shared and stored and by whom.


A four-year study of the Metropolitan Police Department’s own camera system also found that the citywide system was ineffective at reducing crime. (Washington DC)

See the blog, written by former Washington Post journalist Melissa Ngo, who questioned the outlay of so much money on an anti-terrorism tool, and has asked about many electronic technologies such as license plate readers “Do they have any proof that this works?”  here for more information.  Below is part of the specific article linked, which discusses surveillance cameras:
During testimony at a Washington, D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary hearing in 2008, D.C. City Administrator Dan Tangherlini testified about a program to add and connect cameras from multiple agencies from the school system, DOT, police and others, saying they would “not have a law enforcement purpose, but instead “provides a centralized, more efficient, better regulated way to operate the city’s existing cameras.” This contrary to what Mayor Fenty said when he announced the program on April 8, stating that VIPS (system) would focus on crime and other hazards. Tangherlini also said that the city went ahead with the program without a privacy policy, because the city is still trying to figure out what departments will be a part of the centralized camera surveillance program and will decide on the privacy policy after determining this.

Councilmember Mary Cheh asked why there was such a rush — why couldn’t the city take the time to determine which departments would be involved, how they would share the data and what privacy and civil liberty safeguards should be in place before the city began linking up the 5,200 cameras? Tangherlini had no real answer other than to say there was a rush because currently the different departments were operating under different policies and the city didn’t want that to continue.

Other than Tangherlini, the witnesses were unanimous in their statements that camera surveillance systems do not cut crime. They pointed to various studies that showed cameras had no significant effect on crime. These reports (pdf) were produced by entities such as the UK Home Office (comparable to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security), which had every incentive to prove that camera surveillance did decrease crime.

Displacement effect is a significant problem, as shown by a recent study (pdf) on San Francisco cameras. That study, by the University of California at Berkeley, found that San Francisco’s 68 anti-crime cameras have not affected assaults, sex offenses, or robberies. The only effect that the cameras had on homicides was to move the murders less than 500 feet away, displacing the crimes.

The response of the San Francisco mayor was to insist on installing more cameras because they make people feel safer.   

The ACLU’s Steve Block said his organization had asked focus groups the same question and found that people did not realize that the money spent on cameras was taken away from more proven crime-prevention techniques, such as increasing the number of beat officers.
The ACLU came up with the slogan, “More cops not cameras.”


Our “leaders” campaigned hard to get the Convention to come to Charlotte.  Signs are the strongest legacies will be unions hitting hard, widespread surveillance throughout certain areas of Charlotte, expanded police powers in other areas with the very subjective “special event ordinance” instituted (with many Council members voting for it even as they said they don’t understand what it says), massive spending and debt incurred for police and other equipment, and unprecedented secrecy in local government, even compared to the new standard set in recent years in Charlotte.

Is this “transparency?”  Is this “World-Class?”

Is this even Constitutional?