Lexington Police Chief appears to call Mayor’s stated Flock camera timeline “misinformation”
12/7 UPDATE: The lame duck Urban County Council voted Tuesday to advance the resolution authorizing the Police Department to enter a contract with Flock Safety for the additional 75 cameras. The vote was rushed through before six new members of the body could take office.
ORIGINAL STORY: Lexington, Ky.–In August 2022, the Office of Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton released a statement on actions her administration was taking to improve public safety in the city. The statement included information on new safety initiatives in Tandy Park, the Flock automatic license plate reader pilot project, ONE Lexington, and Bluegrass Crime Stoppers.
Regarding the Flock license plate reader pilot project, the statement said:
Gorton reported back on the progress made by Flock license plate readers. “We have just gotten the 25 license plate readers that the pilot project calls for in place,” Gorton said. “With just 25 cameras, since March we have recovered over $1.1 million in stolen vehicles, and charged 116 people with crimes.” The license plate readers have also led to the recovery of 11 missing persons, and the seizure of 28 guns.
“Our Flock year-long pilot project is barely six months old, and it’s already clear that the license plate readers are a strong asset … a valuable tool in our toolbox to fight crime,” Gorton said. If the year-long pilot project is successful, ultimately the City will have 100 cameras.“Mayor, Chief ramp up actions to improve safety,” 8/17/2022, (LFUCG) https://www.lexingtonky.gov/news/08-17-2022/mayor-chief-ramp-actions-improve-safety#:~:text=Gorton%20reported%20back,have%20100%20cameras.
The first paragraph provides some unscientific data pertaining to incidents involving Flock license plate readers. There is no context provided or comparison to prior years, so one is unable to draw any conclusions regarding the program’s efficacy from it.
In the second paragraph, Gorton adds that the program is “barely six months old.” (A council member pointed out that all 25 pilot cameras had been up for a fraction of that time in a recent work session.) The statement on Flock cameras concludes with a reasonable proposal: If the year-long pilot project is successful, ultimately the city will have 100 cameras.
On November 8, Mayor Gorton was re-elected in a landslide. Also elected (to Council) were Tayna Fogle and Shayla Lynch, who have previously expressed skepticism of the Flock program. Voted off the Council was incumbent Flock camera supporter Josh McCurn. The new Council doesn’t take office until January.
On November 28, just over three months after her original statement on the Flock pilot project, but before the new Council took office, Gorton released another statement that changed course.
Even though the pilot project is not a year old, the technology has already more than proved itself on Lexington’s streets. It’s time to move ahead with full implementation of the program by adding 75 additional license plate readers. To meet the challenges of the future we must continue to modernize the tools our law enforcement officers have.“Mayor, Chief urge Council to expand Flock program,” 11/28/2022, (Susan Straub) https://www.lexingtonky.gov/news/11-28-2022/mayor-chief-urge-council-expand-flock-program#:~:text=Even%20though%20the,enforcement%20officers%20have.
From August to November the Mayor’s position went from:
If the year-long pilot project is successful, ultimately the City will have 100 cameras.
Even though the pilot project is not a year old…It’s time to move ahead with full implementation
The city provided additional data in the November statement, but because it was again not statistically significant, no conclusions on the Flock pilot project’s efficacy could be drawn. Council Member David Kloiber noted at Tuesday’s work session that Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers had told him, “when we’re working with crime statistics, we should not look at anything less than five years,” in the past.
The statement also says the Gorton Administration checked with the ACLU and other advocates to make sure their plan provided the “right balance of personal freedoms and safety.” This is a noteworthy claim because the ACLU says it does not support the Flock program.
In a recent Facebook post, the ACLU of Kentucky said:
Mayor Gorton and Lexington Police Department want Council to expand “flock” cameras. Let’s make one thing clear: we appreciate them hearing our concerns, but this is a poor allocation of resources that will expand surveillance and risk privacy. Council should vote no.
Before the pilot launched, we shared our concerns about over-policing in communities of color, privacy and data storage, the lack of guardrails to prevent unnecessary future expansions, and the lack of civilian oversight and accountability.
Many of our concerns were addressed in the pilot, but we have yet to be invited back to see the results and provide feedback before Council considers expanding license plate readers.
Even if all of our concerns had been addressed, we still believe spending taxpayer dollars to increase police surveillance is a waste of resources that will not serve Kentucky communities well. We must combat crime with evidence-based programs that address its root causes: poverty, housing insecurity, access to physical and mental healthcare, childcare, and more.
Lexington can and must do better.ACLU of Kentucky, Facebook post
Weathers appears to call Gorton’s August statement misinformation
Many public commenters questioned the timeline changes at Thursday’s Council meeting, including incoming 1st District Council Member Tayna Fogle, who takes office in January.
If the money is already allocated, the money will be there. Why don’t we wait for some data? We have elderly people who were for the flock cameras in the beginning. Now they’re questioning because their houses have been shot up… Pump your brakes. Slow downIncoming District 1 Council Member Tayna Fogle, 12/1/2022 LFUCG Urban County Council (Public Comment)
Chief Weathers later responded to Fogle and other community advocates who shared her concerns.
“There’s misinformation about the whole project. That it was supposed to last a year, the whole research project is supposed to last a year, which it still will as a part of the pilot. But We’ve seen success in the 25, and that’s prompted us to want to go ahead and buy them. We know it will be about three months before we can get them in.”
As of December 3, 2022 at 11:02p.m., Gorton and Weathers still have not provided statistically significant evidence to support their claims that the Flock pilot program has had an impact on crime in Lexington.
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