CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe plans to tell the Charlotte City Council on Monday about his department’s plans to use technology that has the potential to affect how the department fights crime.
The equipment – more than 500 wireless cameras, automatic license-plate readers and a network of sensitive, gunshot-detecting microphones known as ShotSpotter – were all bolstered by or put into place before the Democratic National Convention. The city received a $50 million security grant from the federal government to pay for new equipment and upgrades.
The Police Department did not comment in advance of Monroe’s statements to City Council. But in the past, Deputy Chief Harold Medlock called the cameras effective crime-prevention and crime-fighting tools.
According to the City Council’s agenda, Monroe will discuss how the systems technologies can be used to prevent crime and identify or arrest suspects. He’ll also discuss “policy, legal and ethical concerns.”
Police haven’t said where the cameras are located but previously told the Observer they intend to move some of the cameras to new corridors and communities with large amounts of crime.
The department already has a nationwide reputation for being tech-savvy. Monroe has testified before Congress about the use of predictive analytics, which use crime data to estimate where a crime is likely to occur and helps police decide where to assign patrol officers.
Potential privacy issues
But the programs Monroe is scheduled to talk about around 4 p.m. today all have potential privacy concerns.
“The one thing we want to make sure of is that ‘big brother’ is not overindulging,” said Patrick Cannon, a Democrat and the chair of the council’s community safety committee. “At the same time, we want to make sure that we do all we can to have the tools to help us prevent the next crime.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has raised questions about how the department uses its more than 500 cameras, and civil rights leaders have asked if they’ll be concentrated in poor, black neighborhoods.
License-plate readers can help police quickly locate a stolen car but can also potentially track the movements of people who’ve done nothing wrong.
And ShotSpotter’s microphones can also pick up the sounds of conversations, although police agencies have said they wouldn’t be used for electronic eavesdropping.
Cannon said council members will also ask if the technology is worth the money.
For example, Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Tulane University, said departments that use ShotSpotter programs typically respond to a high number of calls that are unfounded.
“You’ve got to chase a lot of false positive errors – either firecrackers, or busted balloons, busted tires – for every positive result,” Scharf said.