Ohio city drops proposal for aerial surveillance

LISA CORNWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A southwest Ohio city that had considered using aerial surveillance to help deter crime has dropped the proposal, which had drawn concern from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and some residents over the issue of privacy rights.

Dayton City Manager Tim Riordan said in a statement Wednesday that city officials made the decision after hearing opinions from all sides at community meetings.

"While we believe there are real potential benefits to the strategic application of this technology, we heard enough confusion over how it would be applied to concern us," Riordan said.

But he added that the city will continue "to pursue technology investments whenever practical."

Melissa Bilancini, policy coordinator for the ACLU of Ohio, said the organization is pleased that the city dropped the proposal for the surveillance video that would have been recorded by a camera system on piloted aircraft. But she said the ACLU hopes the city will develop a policy to protect residents' rights to privacy.

"This type of technology will continue to become smaller, cheaper and more accessible and will probably come up again," Bilancini said. "That's why we think it is important to have policies to address the effects of technology on privacy."

She said the group would like to see statewide legislation incorporating such a policy.

Dayton resident Joel Pruce said Thursday that dropping the proposal was the right thing to do.

"The community was just not quite ready for this project right now," Pruce said. "I think we have to have a policy in place the next time this comes up that would be protective of civil rights and privacy rights."

Concerned residents had said that they feared the proposed system would allow police to collect a huge amount of data that could then be mined for violations and that innocent people's movements might be tracked.

Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl had said those fears were unfounded. He said police would not track legal activity and couldn't determine race or gender from the video images or identify makes and models of cars or license plates. Anyone viewing the images would only see small dots representing people, he said.

Police had hoped to use the system to help track movements to and from some crime scenes and perform surveillance over areas where crime patterns had been identified.

Under the proposal, Dayton would have contracted with Xenia-based Persistent Surveillance Systems LLC for a three-month pilot program of 120 hours of surveillance costing a total of $120,000 that would come from seized assets from crimes. The camera system scans up to 25 square miles every second from an altitude of about 8,000 feet.

Company president Ross McNutt, who had said his business has strict privacy policies and only responds to reported crimes or investigations, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.