Oakland was awarded federal grants in the amount of $7 million. The majority of the funding was supposed to go into thwarting terrorist attacks at the cities busy port, but instead the funds are being used in a new police initiative that will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data from different areas of the city. The new system will have gunshot detection in areas like the barrios of East Oakland and license plate readers will be mounted on police cars that patrol the upscale hills. The system is scheduled to start next summer.
Oakland is not the first city to tap into big data programs. New York City was also federally funded for its big data system. NYC’s system links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists. Massachusetts used federal money to purchase license plate scanners and Texas bought a drone with homeland security money.
The new program has sparked controversy. Proponents of Oakland’s new initiative believe that it will aid police in lowering the city’s high crime rate. Critics have raised concerns that the program will also gather data on the everyday movements of the city’s law abiding citizens, which then raises both legal and ethical questions about tracking people’s lives so closely.
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Oakland City Council member Libby Schaaf said that because of the city’s high crime rate, “it’s our responsibility to take advantage of new tools that become available.” She added, though, that the center would “paint a pretty detailed picture of someone’s personal life, someone who may be innocent.”
The new system will give law enforcement a much broader view of the people involved in its investigations. Before this technology arrests were based on small amounts of data, witness testimony and the logs of license plate readers. It will make arresting the bad guys and convicting them an easier task.
Back in September, Oakland entered into a contract with the Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, to build its new system. SAIC was also hired to modernize New York City’s payroll system. This contract resulted in reports of kickbacks and SAIC paid the city $500 million to avoid federal prosecution. SAIC now operates under the name Leidos Holdings.
Oakland’s new center will be centrally located and will gather data around the clock from different sensors and databases. The data will be analyzed and some of the data will be displayed on a bank of giant monitors. The city hopes to staff the center around the clock. The center will be sent data from cameras located at the port, traffic cameras, license plate readers and gunshot sensors. Next summer the system will be integrated with a database that will allow law enforcement to tap into 911 calls.
If the system is a success school surveillance cameras and video data from the regional commuter rail system and state highways may be added on.
Edited by Alisen Downey