Fresno’s Real Time “Security State”

By Stan Santos

Author’s note: On July 7, reporters gathered at the Fresno Police Department (FPD) headquarters to observe the rollout of the Real Time Crime Center. The Community Alliance covered this topic in its August issue. This article summarizes the main components of this intelligence and investigation system and provides the reader with some observations and conclusions.)

BEWARE is a complex security platform that utilizes audio, video and other methods of electronic recording in conjunction with crime-related and demographic databases. BEWARE has been used by the City of Fresno and other cities across the United States since it was introduced in 2012 by Intrado, a subsidiary of West Corporation. Both companies have established portfolios in telecommunications, public safety and 9-1-1 emergency response services.

Shot Spotter is a product of SST Inc. and is meant to detect, locate, analyze and alert public safety agencies of the unlawful firing of guns in a specific neighborhood or sector of the city. When gunshots occur, the system connects the Crime Center with the closest active video feed.

Vigilant is a license reading program being trialed by the FPD for identifying vehicles and individuals that might have been involved in a criminal or safety-related incident. The FPD uses video equipment at intersections where they record license plates and store a photo. They capture about 250,000 license plates per month.

The Real Time Crime Center uses these systems to record and analyze multiple sourced data and enhance the capabilities of law enforcement and emergency services to respond to and, where possible, preempt criminal activity or threats to public safety.

Predictive Policing (per the FPD 2013 Annual Report) “is a more scientific look at past and current crime using algorithms (mathematical formulas) and analytics (in-depth examinations of various aspects of crime), with a future-oriented approach to make predictions about likely future crime locations, times, victims, perpetrators, crime types, and methods of operations.”

The tools of Fresno’s Security State:

180 video policing cameras with zoom and recording capability

140 traffic cameras (non-recordable)

750 school cameras

Hundreds of privately owned parking lot and indoor store cameras

55 video monitor screens

Three shifts with four officers each, providing 24-hour surveillance

The risks and benefits of this powerful intelligence platform must be weighed carefully. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer cited several examples from a public safety perspective where the system already has been used. One included a series of clips which showed a car that was spotted making several passes in close proximity to an armed robbery; the video was later used by the prosecution.

Another showed an intoxicated or otherwise disabled man who fell in the middle of the street. A monitoring officer at the Crime Center dispatched a unit and officers helped him avoid serious injury.

During a domestic dispute, the system determined that the male had a prior gun charge. This prompted the FPD to dispatch a mediator who used his expertise to avoid a confrontation and negotiate a surrender. Those are a few examples where the system provided a strategic advantage, allowing the FPD to respond to each call with the correct resources.

These are almost ideal situations, where everything that could be known was known. There were no doubts as to the conditions on the ground; the chronology of events and the outcomes were predictable. That is not always the case, no matter how much “intelligence” exists. Real-life situations are complex, and people are difficult to predict in a “fight or flight” situation. Add the complications of drugs, mental illness and stress on all sides, and the outcome is impossible to predict.

Fresno Police as Workers

Fresno police officers are human beings. They are also members of the Fresno Police Officers Association (FPOA). Much like any union, it wields its political muscle to protect and advocate for its members. They also helped in the fight to protect city garbage collectors against privatization, with their funds and their feet. FPOA President Jacky Parks was a prominent figure in press conferences and was awarded “Labor Leader of the Year” in part due to these efforts.

In an organized labor context, police officers might be considered tradespeople whose craft is “public safety.” As workers, most would agree they should enjoy the right to return home every day to their loved ones without undue risk to their lives and health.

However, errors made during the performance of the functions of their trade can have deadly consequences as evidenced by cases where the officer claims he thought he was holding a Taser when in fact he was firing his Glock.

Then there was the case in Stockton in July of last year, when they fired 600 shots at fleeing robbers. Ten bullets struck and killed a civilian hostage in a classic case of “contagious” shooting, where officers fired their weapons only because others did so. Some officers almost fired into each other.

In any other craft trade, where there is an accidental injury or death, the investigation focuses on contributing factors such as the time of day, the mental and emotional state of the individuals involved, training, years of service, prior incidents and whether all appropriate methods and procedures were followed. Finally, there has to be a conclusion as to the principal cause.

Due to pending legal actions, the outcome of an investigation in a deadly shooting incident is not disclosed for years and the public might never learn the whole story. What is known is that there have been 30 police shootings since January 2013, with 17 of those proving fatal. Despite the fact that all have been ruled justifiable by the FPD Internal Affairs Unit, the City of Fresno has paid out millions in settlements. Nine shootings are awaiting a ruling from prosecutors, and seven have resulted in excessive-force lawsuits.

In the cases of several repeat shooters in the FPD, the “procedural error” argument cannot be used.

Repeat shooters are supposed to be tracked and provided additional interventions and follow-up. Emotional fitness, temperament and training are definite factors. Meanwhile, the debate rages over known methods of de-escalation, taking cover and assessing the situation or simply reacting with deadly force.

So what has changed?

It was almost as if someone flipped a switch. In April of 2015, Chief Dyer announced a decline in officer-involved shootings, due in part to new training focusing on de-escalation of tense situations. It had been six months since an officer-involved shooting, which also corresponded with the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It was clear that the national mood would no longer tolerate police abuse.

In 2015, the first officer involved shooting in Fresno took place on June 6. On August 7, Fresno Police killed a man who reportedly brandished a toy gun. Family members say he suffered from mental illness and would sometimes hold a broom stick as if it were a rifle. On April 21, a Police cadet accidentally shot another cadet.

These incidents represent a huge decline compared to previous years with almost one shooting per month and dozens of excessive force complaints. According to the Department of Justice Handbook, “Police Use of Excessive Force”:

“A key factor in how police use f irearms is the attitude of the police chief. If the chief stresses conduct that respects the sanctity of human life, and follows up through close administrative review, line officers will respond accordingly.”

Just as suddenly as new procedures slowed the killing, Chief Dyer could have demonstrated true leadership and called for a halt a long time ago. Some victims of his administration might be at home with their families today. The youth might look more positively on the good men and women in uniform who truly care to serve the community.

And the Real Time Crime Center? It is part of the post-911 rush to the National Security State. It won’t take the place of instincts guided by compassion, training, intelligence and dedication. Those are qualities that the Fresno Police and community deserve, but may never have with Jerry Dyer.

*****

Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at ssantos@cwa9408. org.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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