The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department gave an indication Monday of its surveillance capabilities, telling City Council it has 600 traffic cameras, 780 cameras mounted inside police cars and 110 mobile and permanent license plate readers.
The license-plate readers are mounted on either fixed objects or patrol cars, the Police Department said. The American Civil Liberties Union has questioned their use, saying they can capture thousands of plates per minute.
Those cameras and readers are in addition to the department’s use of technology that simulates cellphone towers, which harvest cellphone data from suspects but can also collect information from innocent residents. The Police Department said it uses that technology about 130 times a year. The Observer first reported the city’s use of that technology last month.
Chief Rodney Monroe briefly described the surveillance during a discussion over whether to enact a local ordinance that would “codify” the city’s existing policies against racial profiling.
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State Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat, plans to introduce an anti-racial profiling bill to the General Assembly in 2015. Groups such as the NAACP and Democracy North Carolina support the measure, which Charlotte is considering enacting as either a resolution or an ordinance.
City Manager Ron Carlee and Monroe said the city is already following the recommendations in Moore’s proposal, which include attempting to enforce federal immigration law and not engaging in “arbitrary profiling.”
“We think community relations is enhanced by this dialogue,” Carlee said.
The City Council could consider a resolution or ordinance in January. The discussion comes as the nation is grappling with the aftermath of two controversial cases in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. In those cases, two African-Americans were killed after confrontations with police. Two grand juries declined to indict the white police officers.
In Charlotte, the city fired police Officer Randall Kerrick, who is white, after he shot and killed an unarmed African-American, Jonathan Ferrell, in 2013.
One aspect of the discussion was how CMPD can monitor residents – and itself. The department has 14 “body cameras” used by officers but plans to greatly increase their use next year.
Monroe said all video from 600 traffic cameras is purged after 10 days, unless the footage is part of a criminal investigation. Video from in-car cameras is erased after 90 days and license-plate readers are erased after 180 days. Video from police interview rooms is kept for two months.
In the case of the cellphone surveillance technology, known as StingRay, CMPD said it keeps a suspect’s phone data. It has said it doesn’t keep information collected from other phones.
Superior Court Judge Robert Bell told the Observer he believes recent media coverage will prompt local judges to ask police when they plan to use StingRay, which law enforcement and the federal government have fought to keep secret.
In Monday’s discussion, Monroe said his department doesn’t have any complaints of racial profiling on record. But he said that could be attributable to the way CMPD records complaints. He said the department would improve how it tracks any possible complaints.
Edward Henderson of Charlotte attended Monday’s meeting. He said he thought the discussion was a “great start.”
“I have been profiled,” he said. “I have been pulled over, and the police have brought out canines. I hadn’t done anything.”