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Dayton activists concerned about police expanding license plate cameras

Six people wearing winter clothing stand on a city block in front of a large concrete building with red garage doors and an American flag on a pole. The sky is bright blue behind them and a concrete road is to their side.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
The Coalition on Public Protection held a news conference on Thursday near one of the city’s thirty-seven automated license plate readers, known as Flock cameras.

The Dayton Police Department wants to install 35 more fixed-site automated license plate readers — a proposal that has concerned a group of local activists.

The Coalition on Public Protection says the police department would be violating a local law if city commissioners don't first hold a public hearing on the plan.

This public hearing is essential because it provides the opportunity for the community at large to receive 30 days to review an impact report detailing the technology and its intended use impact on crime and adverse impact on residents,said Melissa Bartolo, member of the coalition.

The proposed contract also includes an extension through 2028 of the current program with Flock, the manufacturer of the automated license plate readers.

Flock license plate reader cameras automatically capture images of license plates, along with the make, model, year and color of the car.

One of the city's Flock cameras can be found on the corner of Monument Ave and Main St in downtown Dayton.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
One of the city's Flock cameras can be found on the corner of Monument Ave and Main St in downtown Dayton.

Dayton police and city spokespeople declined interview requests from WYSO.

WYSO previously reported that police officials said this technology can assist in solving criminal investigations.

The coalition members said the use of these readers isn't limited in scope — though they say it should be — to protect residents’ rights and civil liberties.

Julio Mateo from the coalition said its members want policies that restrict the use of the readers and how long the license plate data is kept.

“Unless the city commission demands answers to these and other critical questions before they vote to approve the contract, we are likely never going to get these answers and we're likely never going to get policy safeguards,” Mateo said.

The coalition pointed to Dayton's law enforcement surveillance oversight ordinance, passed in 2021.

This ordinance requires the Dayton police department to hold a public hearing and produce an impact report before installing new surveillance technology.

However, in a memo submitted to the city manager on Dec. 4, Dayton Police Chief Kamran Afzal says the department already has complied with this city rule because a public hearing for the current program was held in July 2022.

Mateo said this assertion from the department is concerning.

The memorandum doesn't make me very optimistic that (the city commission is) actually going to wait to receive the information that they should receive and that the police legally are required to provide before voting. I hope I'm wrong,” he said.

Afzal previously told WYSO that data taken from these readers cannot be used for anything other than its intended uses, such as sharing it with federal agencies.

The proposed contract would cost $825,750.

The police chief said in a statement to the commission that the cost would be paid from federal grants and additional grants will be sought.

A city of Dayton spokeswoman said a presentation on the technology will be held at the city commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905