The proposed DAC aka Domain Awareness Center, linking private and OPD operated surveillance video, Shotspotter microphones, license scanners is probably a done deal as far as this Tuesday’s City Council vote goes.  But it’s a fiscally dumb deal that will divert money away from improving the timing and quality of OPD response to crimes, as well as taking money away from non-policing efforts that can be effective. The Feds waive a 10 Million dollar grant, and contractors and OPD brass promise crime reduction nirvana. Hard for our Mayor and Council to resist when so many residents have been crime victims.

The Council members are out of their depths on evaluating a tech project this complex. One council member even suggested approving DAC but forbidding data storage. Apparently that CM did not understand how pattern and facial recognition software works. Without storage, the DAC is just a big useless CCTV system that would require dozens of employees staring at displays.

DAC should be called the Data Acquisition Center because that’s what it has to be for better or worse.

Our elected officials and staff do have experience with real estate projects. Many of those comes in way over budget but at least function. A large custom software/hardware project is quite different from a new real estate project unless you think of a Fox Theatre project with a perpetually leaking roof on which construction never ends.  This one could come in way over budget initially and each year, and still not work as promised. Then after a few years of dumping money into patching the DAC we’d have to scrap it and buy some canned system that would be available by then. And that’s assuming you believe that city staff are capable of enforcing any privacy policy when the Federal government with much more expertise and legal oversight, failed with the NSA.

Normally I would give links to primary documents supporting my assertions. I hate it even when real journalists don’t do that.

That’s particularly hard for my contention that the DAC will be an extremely expensive ineffective use of city funds to fight crime because it’s what city officials didn’t say, not what they did say.

They did not give detailed verifiable projected costs for maintaining the DAC software/hardware.

Council got only a vague “back of the envelope” guesstimate from staff what it will cost to operate, maintain, and support this extremely complex hardware/software project after the initial Federal grants expire in two years. That’s the same time when annual budget deficits of >100 Million are projected to hit by the City’s budget department.

They did not provide proof that the DAC would reduce crime other than maybe property crime in commercial areas.

But we do know that OPD does not have the funding to provide the community beat cops that Measure Y promised us ten years ago. We’re about to spend millions on a new OPD radio system because the one we designed was a loser. We don’t even have cell phone 911 reporting system. We also know that OPD is so badly managed that it holds the nation’s record of longest running Federal oversight at a cost of millions.

You might believe the City’s assurances that your privacy can be safeguarded by a privacy policy enforced by City employees or you might believe that privacy is less important than the promised personal safety. You might feel post Snowden/NSA that there is no privacy.

Regardless of your thoughts about privacy risks posed by the DAC, the City Council will be committing us to unknown fiscal risks that will threaten proper funding of basic OPD staffing for adequate cops on the street and investigators.

Originally, this grant was only meant for the Port. That made sense and was fiscally responsible because of its limited scope. Then OPD brass and some City officials decided to cover the whole city. Oakland will be one of the first to expand from just a port type surveillance data gathering system to a city wide system, there just aren’t any good sources of info about what those costs might be.

Many of my clients are software companies. I did talk to the chief engineer at one of them. He laughed when he heard that Oakland was going to take on a major big data project like this with 0 internal experience and expertise. KQED interviewed a disinterested techie who also was skeptical about Oakland succeeding.

“When you start by grabbing whatever data you can find and then hoping to get insight out of it later, it becomes a very drawn-out expensive process,” says Feris Rifai, “and frankly a bit of an upside-down approach.” (“Rifai is CEO of Bay Dynamics, a San Francisco company that builds big data tools for big banks.” )

There must be people reading this who do have the expertise to venture a guesstimate of the costs to care and feed for a custom big data project like this. Would like to hear what they say about estimated costs of such a project.

The group organizing around privacy issues used an information request to collect all the city staff emails on the DAC.  Looks like city staff bent over backwards to push DAC thru.  Damn the privacy concerns.  Lie about the city’s anti-nuclear weapon contract law. Avoid talking about what the future expense to Oakland will be.

A lot of this comes down to whether you want to give our local elected officials the benefit of the doubt and assume they and city staffers know what they’re doing in this complex intersection of managing large tech projects, public policy, and privacy rights. They don’t want to violate our privacy or waste money that could be spent more effectively on reducing crime. They’re just average well-meaning people who have neither the financial or technical know-how about complex tech projects, and are inherently optimistic about their power to use laws to protect us from government abuses.  Come re-election time they would have to explain to an electorate angry about crime why they would turn down 10Mill from the Feds just because a bunch of OO crazies disrupted City Council meetings.

The crazies are right this time.


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10 Responses

  1. Oakie

    I agree with you. Oakland’s governance is simply not capable of making DAC work, whether or not you might agree that more surveillance is a good idea, given our level of violent crime and impunity by which our criminals rule the streets.

    Approval of this system would be a colossal mistake for which we will greatly regret the fiscal albatross in a few short years. I wish the voters in Oakland would have sufficient memory to punish those who vote on the City Council to approve this. But the fact is they won’t.

  2. R2D2II

    Good points well-made. I would only add that the Council and city staff spend their time and energy forwarding this sort of complex, uncoordinated and otherwise doubtful and unpopular project and neglect putting together an effective public safety plan which could make a real difference in crime levels. First things first is a simple principle completely unappreciated in city hall.

    Keep in mind which mayoral candidate is pushing the DAC. So she can say she’s “doing something” about crime.

  3. len raphael

    By the time you have read this the Council will either have approved this funding stage of the DAC or have postponed a decision for a short time.

    Either way it is important for people to register their opposition to the DAC by signing the online petition and by emailing their opposition to the council members and the Mayor’s office. A short sentence such as “Please do not approve the DAC” is all that’s needed.

    This petition site is very strict about privacy but you have to be sure to read the opt-outs at the lower right of page or you will get emails about other petitions.

    We need fewer than 200 more signatures at this time to get to 5,000.

    If it passes tonight or shortly thereafter, a lawsuit will be filed against the city. I don’t know how effective that will be unless new vendor fails the anti-nuclear law here. My uninformed hunch is that constitutional privacy law hasn’t caught up with technology.

    I made a modest financial contribution online and no one stole my credit card info. The crowd funding site for legal action is

    Please let your friends and neighbors know why the DAC would be both dumb and dangerous.

    Email addresses for Council members and Mayor’s office:

    Sean Mayer, press secretary
    Rebecca Kaplan
    Dan Kalb
    Noel Gallo
    Larry Reid
    Lynette McElhaney
    Pat Kernighan
    Libby Schaaf
    Desley Brooks

  4. len raphael

    At last night’s Council meeting (Feb 18 2014), vote to postpone a decision on hiring contractor for the DAC for two weeks was 6 ayes and 2 abstains (Kalb and McElhaney).

    Noel Gallo seems to support the DAC as proposed, Larry Reid said nothing, Libby Schaaf said little.

    The other members asked the questions about privacy issues, operating costs, and liability that they should have asked months ago. Better late than never.

    The ACLU attorney indicated she would accept a compromise where the project was substantially scaled back to the original Port only surveillance system.

    Indications from several of the Council Members that they were open to the ACLU compromise. No clarity on whether the Port would be willing to do that at this late date in the Federal grant process.

    Mayor Quan told the Council that it was mostly for emergency response to natural disasters and other cities had it. She might have been the only one in the room with that understanding of the DAC.

    If you oppose the DAC it is still important to email council members and sign the petition.

  5. Len Raphael

    Last night’s vote to delay consideration of hiring a DAC contractor was very different from what experienced observers of Council predicted based on past Council member statements and voting. “On July 30th, 2013 the Oakland City Council unanimously approved a $2M grant for Phase 2 of the DAC”

    It appeared to be the extremely rare instance when Council members changed their minds after listening to speakers.

    There was a Yahoo listserv post saying the Council was intimidated by the audience. Nope. There were plenty of cops there to dispel any fear of physical intimidation.

    If anything, it was the intellectual intimidation from the DAC opposition who did massively better research into the privacy and fiscal risks of DAC and debunked the assumption that DAC would greatly reduce crime. One observer said the catcalls and hoots were milder than you’d find at a typical British parliament session.

  6. Len Raphael

    correction on who abstained: It was Kalb and Reid.

    The primary reason the Council majority voted to postpone was they realized that they did not understand what they had previously authorized in 2010 and 2013 unanimous votes on several million worth of DAC grant authorizations. Furthermore most of them now want to restrict the DAC to the original Port protection idea but they don’t know if the Feds will let them dismantle what’s already been installed. There is mass confusion about what costs are shared with the Port.

    Libby Schaaf made the excellent point that over a million had already been spent in phase 1 and a couple of million already authorized for phase 2. From their questions, the other CM’s didn’t realize that the DAC was already partially installed.. We have no idea if we have to refund money to the Feds if we dismantle the non Port pieces of phase 1 surveillance already spent/installed.

    It also seemed that Libby Schaaf preferred to keep what’s been paid for and installed even though it extended the DAC outside the Port. But maybe she just didn’t want to see the money wasted by giving it back to the Feds or abandoned.

    Questions posed by Lynette M to staff then made it clear that the project already has connected some of the city’s traffic cameras and the Shotspotter microphones in phase I. But no video storage has been implemented or maybe just “not turned on”.

    Lynette M incorrectly stated that the staff had “discovered” that the phase 1 contractor, SAIC, was “non-compliant” with our anti-nuclear weapon statute. That was not staff but anti-DAC activists googling SAIC who uncovered that.

    Confusion about what’s been done and what the legal commitments made was a common thread in the Council discussion. The staff seemed to know but either hadn’t told the CM’s or the CM’s never asked previously.

    Mayor Quan’s comments were completely different from every other speaker and CM.. Only “an incident center” “All we’re doing is looking at the cameras” “Many other cities have this”

    Brooks did a very credible job of summarizing the messed up legal and financial situation, and expressing the intent of majority of Council to roll back the DAC to just Port protection with possible addition of natural disaster geographical info.

  7. Len Raphael

    Partial correction re “Lynette M incorrectly stated that the staff had “discovered” that the phase 1 contractor, SAIC, was “non-compliant” with our anti-nuclear weapon statute. That was not staff but anti-DAC activists googling SAIC who uncovered that.”

    Lynette M was correct about the staff discovering the contractors violation of our anti-nuke statue. But that’s only half the story.

    What she should have said, as one anti DAC activist put it, “staff DID discover SAIC was out off compliance a year ago. Then, of course, they worked to cover it up.” The City staff emails released under freedom of info request are damning.

  8. len raphael

    As of the Tues Feb 18th Council meeting it looked like most of the council members would come back in two weeks to vote to restrict the surveillance system to the Port in conjunction with a tough privacy policy.

    Not clear if this will require the City to refund to the Feds some of the money already spent on designing and integrating the City traffic cameras and possibly some other sensors that are outside of the Port.

    So to discourage the Council from backsliding into allowing those traffic cameras etc. to connect to the DAC, it is still important to sign the DAC petition and/or email council members. Emailing the Mayor seems to be a lost cause because she is convinced the DAC is something lots of cities have and is mostly for natural disaster response.

    The petition to stop the DAC is at

    The full url is does not sell your info but be sure to uncheck any boxes that automatically get you emails about other petitions. You can also indicate if you will allow your name to be public or not

  9. Len Raphael

    Citywide DAC surveillance was rejected by Council vote yesterday.

    Vote was split 4 to 4 over a new proposal to restrict the surveillance to the Port and allow sharing of emergency dispatchs between OPD, OFD, and the Port. Any non-Port sensors such as video, Shot Spotter microphones, license plate scanners located outside of the port will be disconnected from the DAC.

    Mayor Quan reluctantly cast the deciding vote in favor of the new restrictive proposal. She expressed her wish that the DAC be extended to the entire city but was willing to accept a Port only DAC. For now….

    The yes votes were understandable as members who listened to many reasons to scale back the DAC but felt it was worth installing to protect the Port.

    The no votes are much harder to summarize. They range from council members who might totally oppose the DAC anywhere to a council member who wanted the DAC to cover the whole city. In between was at least one CM who was concerned that the City would still be on the hook for the technical and legal costs of maintaining the DAC.

    Next steps for residents concerned about privacy include monitoring and contributing to a privacy policy for the Port (and the City) and making sure Mayor Quan does not get her wish to expand the DAC.

    I’ve never seen Council change course so drastically after several prior unanimous votes to approve the whole city wide DAC.

    But then 5,078 people signed the Stop the DAC online petition and there was an amazingly well organized broad based opposition to the original DAC proposal.


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