Newark council debates installing Flock security cameras

NEWARK – Flock security cameras are either a key law enforcement tool that helps catch criminals or a privacy breach that collects data about local travelers.

Or both. It depends on who you ask.

Debate at the Newark City Council’s Service Committee on Monday night sparked varying opinions, but the committee voted 5-0 to allow the city to enter into a 2-year contract with Flock Safety without a tender for the purchase of the system and the cameras.

The resolution moves to the full council, which will have two readings of the resolution before possibly voting on Nov. 14. Flock Safety recommended 26 cameras for Newark.

Newark Director of Security Tim Hickman said the value of the cameras has already been demonstrated locally.

“Ironically, last weekend, the police department got a gunshot call and they had a description of the vehicle, but that was it,” Hickman said. “They contacted Heath PD. Heath PD checked their Flock system and they said the car had just passed through our jurisdiction on (Ohio) 79 South, and they found the vehicle and the person. It was the shooter from 30e Street. So it works. There is living proof.

The camera system uses automated license plate reader technology, taking images that are run against a national crime database. The police can be alerted immediately if a stolen car drives past a camera.

Initial funding for the system and cameras will come from a state grant of $128,400. The cameras cost $2,850 each for the first year and $2,500 per camera thereafter.

Council members Beth Bline and Jonathan Lang said they were concerned about the system and Councilor Doug Marmie expressed his reservations two weeks ago when the committee rejected legislation regulating the installation and use of the system by the Newark Police Department.

Lang said: ‘I think it’s important that we take a minute to reflect on whether this is the step we want to take as a community, to walk the path of monitoring our people so that we can go back. and check wherever someone has been. I urge the committee not to support that.

Councilor Cheri Hottinger replied, “They’re not going to follow everywhere you’ve been. That’s just where the cameras are. They follow you if you walk past a camera and we won’t have a camera at every intersection in town.

Lang said he was worried that Flock might take advantage of the data they get from Newark cameras.

“They’re not going to sell our data directly, but I think the contract reads in such a way that they can take the data and create other business offerings that use that data and they’ll profit from it,” Lang said.

Councilman Spencer Barker said it was too late to prevent the collection and use of this type of information. The Ohio Department of Transportation is an example, he said.

“ODOT already does that,” Barker said. “They have traffic counters and traffic cameras that they provide to any citizen. ODOT is already providing people with ‘Where are the best places for commercial traffic?’ in every municipality in Ohio. It’s already in happening.

Tricia Moore, the city’s chief legal officer, said Flock will not be allowed to sell Newark’s data or use it in any way to identify Newark. The company will only use the information to improve its own services and programs, she said.

“They can’t sell agency data or aggregated data on Newark, Ohio, but they can use anonymized information,” Moore said. “But the information they use, you won’t know where they got it from.”

A general description of a vehicle can also be looked up in the Flock Safety system database, such as the color, make or model of the vehicle. Other identifiers such as window or bumper stickers or even front or rear racks can also be searched, with the system returning information such as the time the vehicle in question passed the Flock camera .

Newark will retain its data for 30 days.

Bline said his constituents told him they fear a loss of privacy and consider the government going too far,

“I got a lot of feedback from citizens on this and they have a lot of questions,” Bline said. “They have a somewhat negative feeling about it. Many citizens feel like it’s a slippery slope and government interference and an invasion of privacy. They have the impression that the controls are too loose.”

Council members supporting the cameras said there was no expectation of privacy on public streets.

“There is a misconception about the right to privacy,” City Councilman Jeff Rath said. “There is no right to privacy outside of your home.”

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