Facing privacy questions, the Miami-Dade Police Department is dropping its pursuit of advanced airborne surveillance that would capture images of everyone outside for more than 25 square miles.
Juan Perez, the county’s police director, said Tuesday that backlash about the program was not worth the edge it might bring investigators in trying to solve crimes.
“I hear the voices,” Perez said. “I’d rather maintain positive community relations.”
Perez was slated to go before county commissioners this week to ask for retroactive approval of a federal grant application to fund a test of “wide area surveillance” technology over the Northside district, one of the most high-crime areas in the county. But faced with privacy concerns about using the war-time tech to watch civilians, Perez said he would pull the proposal and cancel the funding request.
Miami-Dade pursuing the “Wide Area Surveillance” program, first used in the Iraq War to track down people planting roadside bombs, sparked outrage from privacy advocates after the Miami New Times revealed the police department’s grant application on June 1. The request for federal funds had not received public attention, and Mayor Carlos Gimenez told a reporter that day he wasn’t aware of the proposal.
Even so, Gimenez said he generally did not object to police cameras filming people outside. “I have no expectation of privacy in my backyard,” Gimenez said.
Perez revealed his intention to drop the surveillance plan in an email Tuesday morning to the Miami office of the American Civil Liberties Union, his leading critic. “I am scrapping the project,” Perez wrote, “but would like to get your opinion on the matter.”
In a statement, ACLU’s Florida director, Howard Simon, praised Perez’s decision and thanked Commissioner Sally Heyman, who sponsored legislation to approve the grant request, for agreeing to a hearing on the matter rather than letting it go to a final vote before the full county commission last week.
“This is how the process is supposed to work: Decisions about what technology law enforcement agencies are using should be made in the open with input from the public and their elected representatives, rather than through a fast-track grant process — in which, as in this case, Commissioners were asked to give retroactive approval,” said Simon, who works out of the Miami office.
“We also know that there are better ways to combat crime and foster stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they protect, such as community policing, rather than placing entire neighborhoods under surveillance and sow mutual distrust,” he continued.
After meeting with Perez on Tuesday afternoon, Simon praised the police chief as a “far-sighted activist … trying to make a lot of reforms.”