OaklandDAC_Page_01-1024x791Brazen daytime robberies have you too scared to walk the streets of Oakland? Downtown smashy-smashy during protests make you sad? Thinking about hiring private security for your neighborhood?

Well, don’t fret, because there’s a solution — the Domain Awareness Center, where iPhone-jacking criminals, downtown-marching activists and park-going patrons alike will enjoy ever-present scrutiny, as law enforcement collects a recorded history of your movements for your own safety. It’s the latest panacea that makes youth curfews and “tools of violence” ordinances look like weak sauce.

Wait, Domain What-now?

Think of it like many rivers and streams feeding into a lake, with some dude on a raft in the middle watching the water flow in.

The City of Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center will have the capability to collect and store surveillance footage in real-time from a broad range of sources, including police-operated cameras in public locations, like the port and the schools, and from privately owned cameras (with consent, of course). Other data sources, like automated license plate readers, social media and gunshot detectors, would also spill in.

The Department of Homeland Security is cutting the initial checks for this project, which has been in the works since 2008. The DAC is all about “situational awareness,” which basically means knowing what’s going on around you with as much detail as possible. The idea is that this could potentially help first responders during a range of events, such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and civil unrest.

Such a system could also offer local, state and federal law enforcement another tool to map out the daily habits and patterns of residents regardless of whether they are committing a crime. And they don’t have to hack your information like the NSA. Iit would be there for the taking.

Dude, you’re paranoid. Chill out.

There’s plenty of paranoia out there. Just look at the anti-Occupy hysteria coming out of City Hall over the past two years and from journalists like San Francisco Chronicle columnistChip Johnson.

The Oakland City Council approved the DAC with no policies dictating how and when collected data can be stored and, later, used. The resolutions passed offered no protections for the privacy of innocent Oakland residents whose patterns could easily be mapped out using this system.

What we did get was lip service that privacy policies would be drafted by March 2014, but those protections should have been in place before the council voted since there are no guarantees the council will move on them in the future.

Considering the near-daily revelations about the NSA abusing its surveillance authority, ensuring that the public will have reasonable privacy protection is essential to curb future abuses.

Oh, and protip for Mayor Quan: if you’re trying to sell surveillance, don’t let the city’s emergency services director pen a column where she argued, in part, that “Oakland’s long history of civil discourse and protest adds to the need” for the DAC. That kind of reinforces the above concerns.

Um, but isn’t there a crimepocalyse happening in Oakland?

There’s no doubt the past two years have seen the highest level of reported robberies since 1993, and much of that increase is occurring in more affluent neighborhoods like Rockridge and Temescal. No doubt the recent media coverage of this, coupled with the shattering of illusions that these areas were immune from Oakland’s crime problems, is expediting this project.

Advocates for the DAC have been fixated with the robbery angle, but guess what: In all other categories of violent crime — rape, aggravated assault and homicide — crime is down. In fact, year-to-date this is the third-lowest year for homicides since 2003.

This isn’t meant to make light of the crime happening in our city and the people it affects. It’s to show that while crime appears to be getting worse, in many ways it’s getting better. What really may be changing is the question of who is affected by crime. And that’s amplifying the hysteria. Using the fear of crime to drive through a project that won’t be good for Oakland in the long-term is opportunism, nothing more.

But cameras reduce crime.

The verdict is still out on that.

An American Civil Liberties Unionwhite paper on the issue looked at research by a number of criminologists who studied the use of police-operated cameras in the UK and US. What they found is that there is no statistically significant connection between cameras and crime reduction.

You’ll find a plethora of anecdotal data, like how that one time a camera helped prevent a drug deal in Chicago, but you won’t find data to support the claims that a DAC would help deter crime or improve first-responder response times.

Why is this important? We’re being in told that the DAC is necessarily as a crime-fighting tool, but if the effects on crime will be marginal or merely result in displacement of crime away from surveilled areas, does that outweigh the risks this system poses?

What risks?

First, let’s start with some intelligence-speak: mission creep.

The term signifies a project growing from its original purpose into something larger and undesirable. The DAC was originally marketed as a port-centric operation, similar to the DAC in Long Beach. But now we see the project becoming a city-centric operation with broader implications.

What’s next? We’re told the DAC will not use facial recognition technology at first, but what about five years from now? Will we see yet another undesirable expansion of this system? Where will it stop?

I hate slippery slopes unless I’m at a water park

Maybe, but the city wouldn’t mismanage a system like this.


When it comes to tech, Oakland has a poor record. If you want insight into this, read the 2012 audit from City Auditor Courtney Ruby on the use of police technology.    

In it, Ruby criticizes OPD for not using, or underutilizing, five tools that cost the city $1.87 million. Specifically she mentions that ShotSpotter, a tool that was meant to better respond to gunshots, was underutilized — with inconsistent dispatching of officers, the lack of use by officers for investigations and the eventual discontinuation of the program entirely. In 2011, while the city renegotiated the terms of using ShotSpotter, there was an eight-month gap in coverage, further aggravating the ability to use the system appropriately or collect valuable data therein.

When we’re talking about putting this much data in the hands of a city that has a history of mismanaging technology projects, it should add more concern.

But who would abuse that power?

There will always be people who abuse power and the tools that enable that power, if they are left unchecked. It would be one thing if you were dealing with a city and a police department that earned your trust by its actions, but that trust is sorely lacking, and for good reason.

Here are a few local examples to remind you of why residents from all corners of the city have serious trust concerns about how the city would handle power like this:

●           The Riders scandal, where 119 plaintiffs sued the city, and won, over widespread police brutality and departmental corruption, which was supposed to result in reforms, but that’s still lacking;

●           The 2003 port protests: where police blotched the handling of a protest so badly it resulted in huge settlements and a court-mandated crowd control policy;

●           Controversial shootings by police, like Gary King Jr., Andrew Moppin-Buckskin, and Mack “Jody” Woodfox;

●           Scott Olsen,Scott Campbell,#J28, andKayvan Sabeghi;

●           Tens of millions of dollars in payouts due to civil rights violations since 2001.

Well, I trust our elected officials.

The city council, as a whole, has done a pretty horrible job of taking this issue seriously.

When funding for Phase II of DAC came before the council on July 16, it was originally on the consent calendar, usually reserved for non-controversial matters.

Then, at the July 30 council meeting, when funding for the DAC was to be discussed and voted on, it was the last item on the agenda, meaning that it wasn’t heard until after midnight. The council pulled the same move on Nov. 19, when theissue of contractors was discussed — iignoring pleas by the hundred-plus people there to speak on the issue to have it moved higher on the agenda.

Frankly, the council showed great disrespect to residents when it forced them to leave the council meeting early because they have other responsibilities, like work in the morning or children at home. Twice the council made residents wait until the wee hours of the night to speak on the issue they were there to talk about, and it smells of trying to paint these residents’ concerns as part of a more radical agenda. (Read: Occupy)

OK, so what now?

If more residents knew what was coming down the pipeline, I suspect they would be deeply concerned. Letting your representatives know how you feel about this is one to show your concerns. Also, folks atOakland Wiki have been discussing next steps.

Here’s a crazy idea: A ballot measure could be a possibility, albeit an expensive one. Let the people of Oakland decide if the DAC is the way to go. Also, Iowa City recently banned drones, license readers and red light cameras, so that could be a route.

But what this all relies on is people knowing what is happening in their backyard. Tell your friends over coffee or beer. Educate yourself. Draw your own conclusions. Take action.







12 Responses

  1. Fred

    I can’t believe I’m writing this, but, we need more police officers and surveillance cameras to deter crime. It’s gotten so bad I’m supporting right-wing draconian garbage.

  2. Chris

    So wrong, on so many levels. Poorly implemented, suspect contractors, it’s a dogs breakfast from the get go. The author nails the problem of ‘mission creep’ – with all the data and analytic tools available, why wouldn’t they abuse their authority? I mean the NSA does it? So that’s okay, right? And when done once it becomes sooo much easier the next time, and the next.
    Oh and Chip Johnson can eat a bowl of dicks; his paranoid ramblings and willingness to give up privacy and personal liberties for more and more layers of security theater are friggin’ sickening.

  3. Bozena McInroy

    I concur Fred. I am pro Domain Awareness Center in Oakland. I am also quite sure that the majority of Oakland’s residents are also pro this project – the silent majority in past, but not so silent any more. The problem we are starting to realize in Oakland is that we’ve tied the hands of police to the point that we who are living in the hills and foothills had to hire private security patrols to protect us. I know OPD is seriously underfund and there were a several issues in the past when things haven’t been handled properly – but OPD has been slammed way too many times lately. The funding of OPD will be addressed in upcoming mayoral elections – we finally have 3 MODERATE candidates (how refreshing!) – we shouldn’t have a problem with rank voting this time 😉

  4. Jonathan

    More cameras to keep an eye on the thugs, cops, and everybody in Oakland seems like a good way to help us all be a bit safer. Wish we could have a fully staffed police force that the cameras could keep an eye on as well.
    A better way to address concerns about abuses by the police and the Domain Awareness Center is to push for proper oversight by the city and civilians, not undercut services that could make us safer with the concern that those services would be abused.

  5. Len Raphael

    Fred and RJ don’t get panicked into supporting the current version of the DAC because of the loosey goosey assurance that “of course” DAC will greatly reduce crime at very low risk of data abuse.

    Yes OO people form the bulk of the opposition to the DAC. So what? if 5% of the voters even know what DAC is, I’d be amazed.

    I opposed OO, I campaigned in D1 on a platform of doubling the number of cops after we overhaul OPD. I do my bit to encourage formation of private patrols.

    But Occupiers are right on this one for some of the reasons the author gives and for some he doesn’t.

    He gives Riders as example of OPD abuse and I’d say it wasn’t.

    I’d add to the list of abusive use of local government power the CEDA scandal of a couple of years ago that quickly got swept under the rug.

    Before you place your trust in city officials to safeguard the data that DAC will collect, look at how some of our trustworthy city bureaucrats encouraged the first DAC vendor to violate the city prohibition on contracting with nuclear weapon vendors.

    Personally, I think that nuclear contractor ban should be repealed. But it is the law and it’s unambiguous.

    The city council and the Mayor are not pushing the DAC because they want to track our personal lives. They want to get re-elected and know that voting for the DAC is a cheap way for them to look “tough on crime.”

    Push our politicians who oscillate from hating on cops to worshiping them,to get us a properly managed and funded OPD like most other cities have.

    Let the Port do it’s own thing with the DAC. Don’t “integrate” the DAC with OPD or private survelliance systems.

  6. John OSborn

    The comments have been really interesting, and I’m happy to see the diversity of opinions on the matter.

    I wanted to add this bit of info to put our crime issue in the statewide context. The Public Policy Institute of California just released an interesting analysis of the effects of realignment on crime in California.

    In the analysis, they found a a strong connection between realignment and an increase in property crimes, and a slight connection to increased in robberies, since the law took effect in 2011. On average, for every offender who was not incarcerated under realignment, that offender was connected with 1 to 2 extra property crimes a year.

    I thought this is an interesting angle to look at that I hadn’t thought about before, especially when we’re talking about how to tackle Oakland’s crime. To what degree realignment is playing a role in Oakland’s increase in robberies, burglaries, and car thefts is unclear, but it would be worth looking into more.

  7. Thistle

    It is amazing to me that some of the above commenters support the DAC, thinking it will fight crime, when there is a huge amount of research and evidence to the contrary (one source was listed in this article). Seriously, you don’t even need to be an academic, just do a Google search and see what the experts pretty much all agree on: Surveillance does not deter crime!

    I think we need to consider more than just our gut reactions to such a project. Look at the research. Educate yourself. This is just another expensive project that will do nothing to help Oakland.

  8. WhoseOakland

    Cameras will not and do not stop crime; why? Have you actually ever looked at the capture of 99% of active surveillance cameras? I wouldn’t recognize my brother let alone someone who is likely masked or hooded. Guess what? The criminals know that as well.
    Remember after the Occupy hoo-ha?? All of those photos and videos?? Remember the OPD pleading with the citizens to help identify people?? Why? stationary or even remote controlled fixed focal lens cameras just really suck at capturing moving people and facial recognition.
    Will this enormous waste of money help Oakland? No
    Would funneling said enormous amount of money into schools, after school programs, community rebuilding, and infrastructure / jobs help Oakland?? Yes, I would at least be a start.
    Alas, let’s just cause dissent, turmoil, and feed the BS band wagon, that seems to be the current administrations go to play. Mayor Quan, go back to sleep, your doing great,

  9. Allure Nobell

    The answer is simple. Don’t go to Oakland. Don’t do business there. There’s nothing there that you can’t get anywhere else with a more functioning city government.

  10. R2D2II

    A bit of perspective:

    Privacy: if you’re really concerned about it, don’t use a cell phone and keep off the ‘net. If you don’t want Big Bro going through your underwear, stay away from airports.

    Crime: Oakland’s crime problems are due to know-nothing, incompetent elected officials who don’t know how to run a city, manage a police department (or any other department for that matter) or take proper care of the citizenry.

    Oakland should be able to reduce its violence and property crime to a reasonable level with social programs that provide real support to dysfunctional, violence-affected families along with an adequately-sized and fully-resourced police department which focuses on community policing.

    Oakland’s social programs and police department aren’t up to the task because of city hall, specifically Quan and Schaaf who make up half the mayoral field in next year’s election.

    So we have maybe a 50/50 chance of some change downtown in 2014 but I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.

  11. Len Raphael

    Council and the Mayor combined their political need for a quick crime fix with the come-on of high tech to get more policing without hiring more cops or better managing what we have. When our politicians heard that the Feds would pay for most of it, the decision turned into a no-brainer for them.

    One of the odder council member quotes was from Libby Schaaf ““We could require that this center never records, ever,” Schaaf added. “That is an option.”

    A data center that doesn’t store data. Sure the Feds would love spending 200Mill for that.


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