Crime, New Jersey, Police, Privacy

New Jersey Police Decide to Turn on the Freaky Red Light

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I have to arrest you.

It has already been a big week for legal technology. Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in United States v. Jones. The case dealt with emerging fourth amendment and privacy issues now that law enforcement have increasingly advanced technological abilities.

Well, law enforcement in the city of East Orange, New Jersey have also embraced technology in the fight against crime. Unlike law enforcement in Washington D.C., however, East Orange’s brilliant new plan involves shining a remotely controlled red light at would-be criminals.

Below the jump we have video footage of Hal this cool, new, swiveling stoplight….

East Orange is not a huge city. Wikipedia says 64,000 people live there. I don’t know anything about it except that a guy I knew from Jersey pronounced orange very weirdly. ( “Ah-rahnj?” Seriously? I think these are the same people who say “Ore-gone.” But I digress.) Regardless, the town is big enough to be on the cutting edge of crime-fighting. (Gavel bang: ABA Journal.)

From the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Picture this: You’re walking down the street at night when suddenly a spotlight flashes onto someone lurking beside a parked car and appearing to be jimmying the lock.

Or maybe the light hits two people standing on a corner as they try, discreetly, to exchange cash and a packet of drugs.

If the suspects run, successive lights can follow them — all while a surveillance camera records the action.

That light show is coming to East Orange as new crime-fighting technology the police plan to install in the next three months, acting Police Chief William Robinson said Tuesday. East Orange will be the first police department in New Jersey to implement the “cutting edge technology,” Robinson said.

Police in a central office will monitor surveillance feeds across the city. They will be able to shine the fear of God into criminals with the lights, which cost $7,200 a pop. The city is also hyping the lights as a pre-crime prevention tool.

Other than spooking criminals in the middle of a crime — “I didn’t see nothing!” — I am a little skeptical about the preventative uses for the lights. What is to prevent some cop with an itchy trigger finger from lighting up (literally) someone not actually involved in sketchy activity? A goodnight kiss under a lone streetlight — BWAM — you aren’t alone anymore. Just because you take a walk at night by yourself doesn’t mean you plan on mugging somebody.

Local police say they’re taking cues from London, where cameras talk to potential criminals. Maybe it’s just me, but a polite English voice requesting, “Oy, you there. Would you mind not robbing that car? I would really appreciate it if you just go on your merry way. Cheers!” — well, that’s a bit different than a photo lab-red spotlight chasing you down a dark street.

But police in East Orange are getting a whole bunch of new toys. The lights are just the beginning.

(As a side note, in the great American tradition of businesses’ close ties to government, the city bought the lights from The Cordero Group, a company run by the former police director.)

Infowars describes the other new gadgets:

The video goes on to brag that officer squad cars also scan the license plates of every single vehicle they pass, checking them against a variety of lists– from terrorist monitor lists, to unpaid parking tickets, warrants and more. Officers can then pull over vehicles that match watch lists, even if the driver has committed no violations to draw attention from the patrol vehicle.

Further, cameras tied into police video monitor stations can also be accessed from squad cars; officers can zoom in on nearby locations to determine if a situation is underway, or if a suspect can be identified. The red light is intended to help track a would-be criminal once surveillance is already underway.

Here is the Associated Press video detailing the whole thing:

Even though it is probably a matter of time until privacy advocates and attorneys get involved and file a lawsuit, I guess I should resign myself to the fact that universal surveillance is the way of the future. We are all on candid camera. Still, this city’s new policies make me uncomfortable. Shining a red light into somebody’s face isn’t crime prevention. It’s just creepy and dystopian.

Whatever. All hail our robot overlords.

East Orange to install spotlight camera surveillance system to fight crime [New Jersey Star-Ledger]
Red Spotlights to Mark ‘Precrime’ Suspects [Infowars]

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