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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Future policing: A Chandler rookie cop and Tempe's wi-fi gentrification plan

The East Valley Tribune has an article that, for some reason, had me laughing all the way through it, although I know that wasn't the author's intention. Over the last year or so, the Tribune has been following a police recruit from test to the street, and now the guy has graduated and finally been let loose on the street, all by himself. Each quote I read from Chandler officer Blake Fairclough has me picturing him posing, Reno 911 style, dropping dubious cop-slang and tough-guy attitude on us from behind his badge.

Take this gem:
"Graves [graveyard shift] are good if you like to hunt," he says with enthusiasm. "If we get a call, it’s legit. We don’t get kids prankdialing 911. If they’re calling 911, there’s a good reason. Day shift gets burglary reports, but we get the burgs [burglaries] in progress."
Or this one:
During one traffic stop, Fairclough is unsure whether a woman’s driver’s license is valid or not, so he asks another officer for advice. Later, he is on the lookout for a drunken motorcyclist reported by Chandler Fashion Center valets.

"Do we know if it’s a crotch rocket or a cruiser?" Fairclough asks the dispatcher over the radio, using the slang term for a racing motorcycle.

"Unknown," the dispatcher replies, but soon sends him a computer message: "I can’t believe you said crotch rocket over the air." His fellow officers just laugh.

Other officers have warned him about women they call "uniform groupies," or women who chase after police officers.

"You just have to stay professional," says Fairclough, whose girlfriend has remained supportive throughout his journey.
The article opens up with him pulling over a car with a broken light:
"I want to stop him and see who he is," he says, the red-and-blue police strobe flashing overhead.

The rookie has been taught that this is one of the most dangerous parts of the job. You never know who is in the car. He walks cautiously to the driver’s side, hand resting on the butt of his holstered gun.

Walking back to his cruiser minutes later, he swivels his head behind him, eyes locked on the car. Never turn your back, he’s been trained. "I gave him a warning," Fairclough says, climbing back in the cruiser. "They just came back from Bible study."
Christians don't get tickets, apparently. We're likely safe to assume there is a high probability that this was a case of stopping someone because they are poor, given the light being out, but was it also racial profiling? We don't know for sure, but Fairclough's statement, "I want to stop him and see who he is," implies that he thought something was suspicious involving the driver himself. Arizona cops routinely racial profile, as recent studies and court cases prove.

Also note that the writer says, "[t]he job has become increasingly dangerous with more guns being used against officers." But no figures are given to back this statement up. Given that police are perpetually portrayed as under threat, and that this risk, real or not, is used to justify all sorts of police excesses, it's worth regarding this statement suspiciously. As a point of reference, a Houston Chronicle study last year showed that one-third of all people shot by the cops there were unarmed, reporting that "[l]aw enforcement officers in Harris County have shot 65 unarmed people since 1999, killing 17." In 2002, for instance, Phoenix police alone shot 28 people, a rate more than twice that in notoriously trigger-happy LA. Certainly that by itself is reason to treat police claims on the matter with much skepticism, especially given the political agenda such arguments support, such as purchasing new equipment or expanding force size.

In security news, the Arizona Republic reports that the security cameras at Scottsdale Community College are back online after an act of God short-circuited the system four months ago. Still, some have complained about the lack of coverage in the meantime. One student, whose car was stolen from a parking lot during that brief window of opportunity, complained:
"I couldn't believe it, especially since (surveillance warnings are) posted all over the place," Michael Fischer, a business marketing student, said of there being no record of the midday theft. "It gives you a false sense of security.
SCC cops report that one car a year on average gets stolen from the school's parking lots. To protect one car a year, we all get spied on, to the point of feeling insecure when Big Brother ain't there watching over us, as poor Fischer points out. Well, fortunately for him, cameras continue to proliferate all over the Valley. For instance, Fischer should feel quite safe on the 101 Freeway soon.

And he should be quite happy to hear that the Mesa Police have been using a new piece of camera technology that allows cops effortlessly to scan hundreds of cars for stolen vehicles. The Mobile Plate Hunter 900, which costs $25,000, can read plates from all 50 states and Mexico, and can function in all weather conditions. The system
includes a mobile magnetic scanner with three cameras. The cameras focus in different directions and move so fast that a patrol car can cover a shopping center parking lot in about an hour, said [detective Thomas].

The images are sent to a computer that runs the license plates against the Department of Public Safety's stolen-car list. If there is a match, an alarm sounds to alert the officer.

Right now, police officers must manually type in each car's license plate number and it's a hit-or-miss method, Thomas said.
Aside from the specific use, the main advantage of these technologies, from the cops' point of view, is that they free up the police to do other tasks, like racial profiling or shooting unarmed people, for instance. As detective Thomas euphemistically puts it, "The officer can continue looking for other things, while this device detects." Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell sums it up this way: "[The placing of cameras on the 101] allows us to take officers who've been assigned stationary speed enforcement on the 101 and put them back in neighborhoods." Said yet another way, the cameras allow the police to expand their oppressive power by redirecting human resources without compromising surveillance.

On a slightly different note, gentrification spreads via the internet in Tempe, according to a story in the East Valley Tribune. The Associated Press article, "Tempe heading for citywide wireless Internet," highlights the proliferation of wireless technology throughout the city. But, make no mistake, this project isn't as inclusive as it appears, even though it's touted as providing universal access. Tempe wi-fi is firmly rooted in the city's gentrification project. According the the article,
[c]ity officials hope that by making high-speed wireless Internet as accessible as water or electricity across its 40 square miles, it will attract more technology and biotech companies — and the young, upwardly mobile employees they bring, said Mayor Hugh Hallman.
So, as with most city projects, if you aren't a yuppie, don't expect that the city planners really have you in mind as a beneficiary of services like this, which are very much launched with a future constituency in mind - one that city planners intend to attract, rather than the one already in residence. Poor and working class folks may incidentally benefit in the short term from projects like this, but the goal is to move us out and replace us with the real target demographic, the yuppies.

But, there's another reason to oppose the new wi-fi system - one that isn't as loudly proclaimed by the city, though it does appear as a bulletpoint at the bottom of their website.
The municipal network negotiated in the lease agreement will provide a future backbone for communication devices that utilize frequencies set aside by the Office of Homeland Security (4.9 GHz), providing a migration path for Public Safety communication. Wireless broadband will play an invaluable role in helping to protect the public and Tempe’s public safety employees.
So, the police plan to use it. ComputerWorld.com reports that city officials will be able to take "advantage of real-time video surveillance over the network." This seems likely, since the technology has been used for surveillance in the past in other places.

It's a little technical, but this excerpt from the Networkworld.com article is worth considering at length:
The mesh video surveillance system reportedly works as follows: The Dallas Police Department establishes a command center on the Dallas fairgrounds. In addition to off-duty police officers walking the grounds, AgileMesh video servers and software reside in the command center, and video surveillance cameras around the park plug into FireTide HotPort wireless mesh nodes via Ethernet cabling. Four video cameras were reportedly installed along the Midway and two, with full pan, tilt and zoom control, were placed on top of the Cotton Bowl facility. Cameras receive power over Ethernet, eliminating the need for additional power supply and cabling.

As with any mesh architecture, the mesh nodes automatically discover one another over the air and auto-configure themselves, enabling the network to scale simply as nodes are added with no wiring required. In this way, remote cameras can be added without the need for costly network cabling back to a central site; cameras simply plug directly into a mesh node, and the mesh nodes backhaul content wirelessly.

According to Firetide, the surveillance network has already helped police nail vandals and a thief stealing valuable landscaping plants.
This section reveals the advantages and flexibility that the new technology will bring Tempe police engaging in video surveillance throughout the city. In particular, we can probably expect police to take advantage of this during downtown events, so look for more mobile cameras in the future. And it will also likely enhance the power of the police to enforce the rapidly developing gentrification of downtown Tempe.

GovernmentEnterprise.com says this about the advantages authorities hope to derive from the technology in an article on their website: "The city said that all police cars and fire trucks will have a built-in Wi-Fi-enabled laptop that will have an always-on connection to the network." Nevertheless, these technologies are repeatedly sold to us as progressive, or as Tempe government puts it, 'Tempe is a showcase for Technology, and once again demonstrates the progressive nature of the community, making Tempe “The Smart Place to be [odd capitalization theirs, not mine]."'

A November 26th article in the Republic reports that Chandler may be next to implement the wireless network, thus linking the two cities in "the first contiguous network where you can go from one city to the other, and that together will be the largest in the United States and the first multi-municipality roaming network."

Tempe's wireless may be good for cops, bureaucrats, businesses and yuppies, but is it good for the rest of us? The evidence suggests not.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

more guns are being used against officers now than before guns were invented. duh.

Sun Dec 25, 04:19:00 PM 2005  

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