SMART Russell is NOT Safe: How Metro is Spinning Increased Surveillance as Technological Advancement
Updated: May 20
Preface: We want to acknowledge two fundamental truths operating within the context of this blog post.
As you may already understand, the goal of speculative capital investment in historically low-income neighborhoods is to attract new, affluent residents and in turn, attract more investment. The first truth that we want to spotlight is the fact that police departments traditionally serve as the security apparatus to private and state investment. Gentrifying neighborhoods traditionally see increases in trivial arrests and citations, and always along racial lines.“San Francisco’s Anti-Eviction Mapping Project documented a dramatic increase in arrests and citations for petty misdemeanors in gentrifying Black and brown neighborhoods. In the Mission, a historically Latinx neighborhood, 311complaints about minor infractions increased by 291 percent from 2009 to 2014 as wealthy techies moved in.”
Throughout this blog series, we have examined the role of the public sector, philanthropy and nonprofits in servicing white private capital investment in redevelopment. This section will discuss how central the police are to settler colonialism and how police surveillance and violence protects white capital investment and property rights in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Secondly, we want to publicly and recursively recognise the fact that there is a fundamental difference between safety and security. We refer to the writings of the esteemed Twana Petty of Our Data Bodies Collective to describe that difference.
"Security is not inherently safe. In fact, most times security is on the opposite side of the spectrum.When people think of security, they are typically thinking about securing items, property, or even their identity. Very often this mindset does not have a human factor involved. To be safe, can mean to be secure, but to be secure does not necessarily mean a person is safe. We install security systems on our homes to protect our property. We advocate for security cameras on police officers in order to hold accountable those officers who engage in police brutality, and we add security alarms to our vehicles in hopes that we deter theft. Although these mechanisms may provide us with a temporary measure of comfort, they have proven time and time again that they do not increase our safety. An alarm system can not ensure an individual is protected from actual harm, just as a body camera cannot prevent police brutality…. Often, for undocumented, black communities, and other marginalized communities, the safer a city proposes to be, the less safe those communitites become. When cities invest in the security of neighborhoods by adding surveillance cameras and increasing militarization of police departments, it poses an imminent threat to those residents who are often deemed expendable. The security mindset without the human element is inherently unsafe.” - Twana Petty, Digital Defense Playbook: Community Power Tools for Reclaiming Data, 2018
“Russell Neighborhood is on the rise,” exclaims Ed Blayney, Louisville Metro Government’s Civic Technology Manager. In both June and November of 2019, Blayney published two Medium articles where he attempted to dress up increased policing as innovation, and labeled Russell residents who didn’t support increased police camera surveillance as “detractors.”
In the article published in November, Blayney didn’t understand why a Russell resident would feel comfortable with their own private home surveillance system, yet feel uneasy when their local government plans to install 35 state-of-the-art surveillance cameras around their neighborhood. Blayney notes that these police cameras have been placed in “public areas such as roadways, sidewalks, parks, etc.” All camera footage from this surveillance system is also monitored 24/7 by government employees at the Real Time Crime Center, both “proactively and reactively.”
How could residents not see the cameras as a technological advancement that promotes safety? Didn’t they ask for this? Short answer, no they did not.
Louisville Metro Government’s Vision Russell initiative was able to leverage funding from the Choice Neighborhood Grant to increase surveillance in Russell by utilizing an unethical and biased needs assessment survey. According to SurveyMonkey, a respected global leader in academic, market, and nonprofit research survey software, corrupted or ruined data comes from surveys that use:
leading questions - questions that are worded in a way that sways a respondent to one side of an argument,
loaded questions - questions that are worded in a way that forces a respondent into an answer that doesn’t accurately reflect his or her opinion or situation
double-barreled questions - questions that force respondents to answer two questions at once
absolutes - Absolutes in questions tend to use wording such as “always,” “ever,” “every,” “all,” and so on to force respondents into a corner where they can’t give useful feedback.
non-respondent language - questions that use technical terms, acronyms, or jargon that may confuse respondents.
Vision Russell’s needs assessment survey used leading and loaded questions to force respondents to answer questions on safety—which is fundamentally different from security, as addressed in the preface above—in ways that would on the surface pass as support for increased policing and surveillance. These unethical research practices are fireable offenses that use corrupted data to justify racist policies and practices.
Less than five years ago former Louisville Fraternal Order of Police President, David Mutchler, released a letter putting the Black and Brown community and its allies on notice. He addressed his threats to “sensationalists, liars and race-baiters,” in order to intimidate people of color and advocates into silence and submission.
WFPL documented reactions on Twitter, June 19,2015:
— Attica Scott (@atticascott) June 19, 2015
— Smokey Carmichael (@TweetItHowULive) June 19, 2015
— FierceFemtivist (@FierceFemtivist) June 19, 2015
In 2015, we saw two-thirds of the then 940 member police force support Mutchler as they reelected him within months of his public release of this racist and terror inducing letter. Though Mutchler retired in May of 2018—likely due to pension uncertainty like many of his colleagues—many of those police officers that supported his ideas and concerns are still within leadership at the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD).
The increase of police surveillance technology is not limited to the boundaries of Russell Neighborhood. The LMPD has entered into a partnership with Amazon’s Ring, a cloud-based home security system. These partnerships are often propagandized as innovations on social media and on fliers by local police departments and governments. LMPD are one of many police departments and government agencies (including Immigration and Customs Enforcement aka ICE) that have partnered with Amazon to gain access to Amazon’s cloud-based services and private home surveillance footage via the Ring application.
According to WDRB, in the wake of this new LMPD-Ring partnership, there are many people that are concerned with privacy all over the city. Some are concerned that our court system’s role in granting access to our private surveillance footage will be weakened. ACLU of Kentucky’s communications director, Amber Duke, recognizes that Louisvillians have always been free to share footage with LMPD, but she is concerned that some residents might not believe that they have a choice when police officers contact them. “They might feel like, ‘Oh, I have to participate in this police investigation or I might be charged with obstruction,’” Duke continued. “… Whether or not people say yes to that request, I don’t think we can say that that interaction is entirely uncolored by the potential for coercion.”
Furthermore, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internationally recognised nonprofit leader in the defense of digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, recently wrote “The rapid proliferation of this partnership between police departments and the Ring surveillance system—without any oversight, transparency, or restrictions—poses a grave threat to the privacy of all people in the community.” They continued, “...it also may chill the First Amendment rights of political canvassers and community organizers who spread their messages door to door, and contribute to the unfair racial profiling of our minority neighbors and visitors.”
Let it be recognized that Ring’s claim to reducing crime has yet to be validated with evidence. According to an NBC News Investigation, “after interviews with 40 law enforcement agencies in eight states that have partnered with Ring for at least three months — that there is little concrete evidence to support… [Ring’s claim that] it’s doorbell cameras reduce burglaries by more than 50 percent.” Bowling Green, KY, police Officer Stickle shared his skepticism with NBC News by saying “If you expect the camera to deter people, you’re assuming that they see it and that they care. Those are two big assumptions.”
With an unprecedented increase in police surveillance and with rapid technological advancement on the horizon by way of Louisville Metro Government and Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence partnership (announced in November of 2019), there is a very real threat to the people of Louisville. Predictive policing, corrupt and implicitly bias data sets, facial recognition, risk and worthiness algorithms, machine learning, and so so much more will turn our city into a real-life Minority Report nightmare, where vulnerable populations will be criminalized, incarcerated, and even killed at greater rates than what we see today. All this will be done under the camouflage of advancement and innovation.
1. Autonomous Tenants Union, Policing And Gentrification: Mass Displacement And The “Community Watch.” May 28, 2019 https://itsgoingdown.org/policing-and-gentrification-mass-displacement-and-the-community-watch/
2. Blayney, Ed. “Smart Russell.” Medium, https://medium.com/louisville-cit/smart-russell-26925b140c6b, June 27, 2019
3. Blayney, Ed. “Smart Russell.” Medium, https://medium.com/louisville-cit/smart-russell-community-engagement-lessons-learned-71224c1aab75, November 12, 2019
4. “5 common survey question mistakes that’ll ruin your data.” Survey Monkey, https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/5-common-survey-mistakes-ruin-your-data/.
5. Ryan, Jacob. “Louisville Fraternal Order of Police Letter Addressing ‘Sensationalists, Liars and Race-Baiters’ Adds Strains, Councilman Says.” WFPL, https://wfpl.org/louisville-fraternal-order-police-letter-sensationalists-liars-race-baiters-adds-strains-councilman-says/, June 19, 2015
6. “LMPD union re-elects controversial president Dave Mutchler.” WDRB, https://www.wdrb.com/news/lmpd-union-re-elects-controversial-president-dave-mutchler/article_07283fc6-7813-5e21-adc0-6b846e258af7.html, November 17.2015
7. Dozier, Tabnie. “LMPD retirements on the rise amongst pension uncertainty.” WHAS11, https://www.whas11.com/article/news/local/lmpd-retirements-on-the-rise-amongst-pension-uncertainty/461474660, August 2, 2017.
8. Green, Marcus. “Louisville-area police forge ties with security camera companies, raising privacy concerns.” WDRB, https://www.wdrb.com/in-depth/sunday-edition-louisville-area-police-forge-ties-with-security-camera/article_24645b8e-49e4-11ea-8a3a-87f10f01659c.html, February 9, 2020.
9. Simmons, Brandon.“NBC Investigation: Amazon's Ring isn't much of a crime fighter.” NBC News, https://www.wkyc.com/article/tech/nbc-investigation-amazons-ring-isnt-much-of-a-crime-fighter/95-779de79e-9199-4206-aa3c-86f0123063e5, February 18, 2020.10.
10. “Louisville unveils home for regional AI hub powered by Microsoft, names director.” Louisville Metro Government, https://louisvilleky.gov/news/louisville-unveils-home-regional-ai-hub-powered-microsoft-names-director, November 13, 2019.
This blog series was written with assistance and contributions from Root Cause Research Center Accountability Council Members: