, June 24, 2022

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Vallejo considering purchase of gunshot detection devices

  •   3 min reads
Vallejo considering purchase of gunshot detection devices
A Flock gunshot detection device. Photo: Flock.

VALLEJO – The city of Vallejo’s new surveillance advisory board will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss whether to recommend that the Vallejo City Council accept an offer from Flock Safety to “beta test” 80 to 100 gunshot detection devices in the city.

Gunshot detection devices use acoustic sensors to identify the sound of gunfire noise and alert police to its location.

If the offer is accepted, the devices would be paired with automated license plate readers and cameras already provided by Flock Safety, Police Chief Shawny Williams wrote in a staff report to the council.

“Gun violence is a public health crisis in the City of Vallejo and across the country,” Williams wrote. “Deploying proven technology that will improve response times, provide real-time intelligence, increase efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response is paramount to public safety and saving lives.”

The city had originally sought input from the board about a policy for the devices but the policy was pulled from the agenda at the last minute, board secretary Naveed Ashraf told the Vallejo Sun on Tuesday. Ashraf, who serves as the city’s chief innovation officer and information technology director, said the policy wasn’t ready for public review.

Garrett Langley, co-founder and CEO of Flock Safety, confirmed last October that the company is pushing to pair the audio devices and video cameras as a way to solve homicides.

The board will also be asked to make a recommendation to the city council and Williams about the use of a new in-car camera system installed in most of the department’s police cruisers.

The two camera in-car system, provided by Axon, records audio and video from the front windshield as well as audio and video of the back seat of the patrol car. It was originally approved by the city council in April 2021 at a cost of $500,000 over five years. Cameras were  installed in the vehicles last month.

Approval of the cameras came nearly 18 months after the city council approved a five-year $1.5 million contract with Axon for body-worn cameras and Tasers for Vallejo’s police force in December 2019.

News broke this week that Axon, known for developing the Taser, said it had scrapped plans to develop a Taser-equipped drone following the mass resignation of the company’s artificial intelligence ethics board.

According to Williams, the police department is seeking input from the advisory board about a draft policy which outlines the use and deployment of the camera system.

Known as Mobile Audio/Video (MAV), the system would turn on whenever the car's emergency lights are activated and remain on until turned off manually. The system will automatically record when the driver exceeds 90 miles per hour and when the vehicle is involved in a collision. Officers would be expected to activate the system during traffic stops as well.

Since coming to Vallejo in late 2019, Williams has sought to use surveillance technology  to improve law enforcement.

Vallejo has placed more than 100 license plate readers throughout the city, including around the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and at a nearby parking garage. In addition, the city has its own cell-site simulator, or Stingray, which can be used to track the location of cellphones and even intercept the content of voice and text transmissions.

Finally, the board will once again try to name a chair and vice chair after deadlocking during its inaugural meeting on April 21.  Board members Andrea Sorce, Philip Balbuena, and Brooke Reddell all favored Sorce as chair, while board members Naomi Yun, Michael McMillan and Adam Bregenzar voted to support Yun for the seat. Board member Lisa Chen was absent from that meeting and is expected to be sworn in on Thursday.

The local American Civil Liberties Union  (ACLU) chapter and Oakland Privacy pushed for the Vallejo City Council to create the board following concerns from the community about the lack of oversight for use of surveillance technology in the city. The seven-person board is tasked with advising the Vallejo City Council on best practices for protecting the privacy, safety, and civil rights of residents when the city chooses to use surveillance technology.

Oakland Privacy sued the city, arguing Vallejo violated state law when the council voted to acquire the cell site simulator without public input. Oakland Privacy won a preliminary ruling, which forced Vallejo to change its Stingray policy.

Vallejo police were admonished in April 2021 when it was revealed that members secretly used facial recognition technology which was developed by Clearview AI. BuzzFeed News discovered that Vallejo was one of more than 1,800 public agencies that had employees use or test the controversial policing tool prior to February 2020.

The Surveillance Advisory Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m., Thursday inside the Vallejo City Hall Council Chambers, 555 Santa Clara St.

Members of the public will be able to participate in-person or remotely via Zoom.

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