Drones are here: why the City Council should take action

Unidentified Drone spotted at El Cerrito rally in 2019

The ACLU, Oakland Privacy, and El Cerrito Progressives have been requesting the city to adopt an ordinance on police surveillance since 2017. Despite these requests, the police chief has pushed to rely only on internal policies and procedures, which may be changed at any time without public input.

We fully respect many of the policies being offered by Chief Keith; however, an ordinance would provide greater accountability for an issue as important as surveillance in our community.

Sometime in 2019 and without public knowledge, El Cerrito Police acquired a drone. In October the police held a poorly advertised and poorly attended public meeting to hear public comment. Only groups already aware of the situation attended the meeting in addition to one or two concerned community members.  At the meeting, Chief Keith presented the draft Drone Policy, listened to public feedback and informed attendees that the next step for adoption of the policy would include a revised draft presented to City Council. At the meeting, members of the varying organizations advocated for consideration of an Ordinance, to strengthen both accountability and transparency for the acquisition and use of all surveillance technology. Chief Keith and City Manager Karen Pinkos continue to resist this idea, ignoring long-term concerns about the prevalence of surveillance tech. 

We are calling on the City Council to take a long-term view of surveillance policies in our city. We ask the Council to codify their beliefs, practices, and transparency about police surveillance in a city ordinance.

The advantages of an ordinance:

  • Surveillance technology is multiplying rapidly and will grow more extensive and privacy-challenging over time. This is just the beginning.
  • A policy may be changed at any time for any reason. An ordinance is only changed after a public process. Protecting citizen privacy should not rely purely on voluntary acts by unknown future city officials. Making these policies into law ensures that our beliefs and practice will continue in the future, no matter who is in charge.
  • Frequent public discussion slows “surveillance creep” and encourages surveillance to be used only when the benefits outweigh the drawbacks
  • More frequent communication and accountability to the public improves community trust of the police force.

What you can do:

Attend the El Cerrito City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 21st at 7:00 p.m. at El Cerritio  City Hall. Make you voice heard. To make public comment, simply fill out a comment card provided by the City Clerk at the time of the meeting.    

If you cannot come in person, you can view the meeting via the City’s website either live or the next day, and respond via email to the City Manager, Police Chief and City Council Members.  

You can join El Cerrito Progressive’s efforts to continue to advocate for a Surveillance Ordinance. Fill out our Google form here.

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