What is needed more? An eye in the sky- or an eye on our commission?

The city charter is very specific- the Dayton City Commission is to meet once a week to conduct the cities business. It’s also specific about missing 5 consecutive meetings and it’s time to replace a commissioner- but as we all know, the only thing that’s sacred in the charter is that you need 500 signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot- and, despite graphology not being admissible in the courts- it is often used to disqualify signatures- despite the ridiculous extra required step of notarizing the petitions swearing that John Doe did in fact sign this petition under penalty of law. But- I digress.

It would seem that our City Commission is meeting in private (still) in the guise of “work sessions” (I guess that means they aren’t really working at the commission meeting- or are those just scripted plays for the public- making them “play sessions”). And while I abhor this practice and was arrested while asking how they get away with breaking the law with these meetings, what’s more important is why the Commission is funneling so much money into a local company?

It seems we’re about to spend $120K for an eye in the sky for 120 hours to surveil our city – from a local company that we’re also considering giving a $20K gift to build out their offices in a building we built with tax dollars and are already renting away for pennies on our dollars. From today’s Dayton Daily news (“n” is  intentionally lower case, as much of it is now a direct feed from the Dayton Development Coalition, the Dayton Business Committee and Nan Whaley’s press releases):

Dayton City Commission is considering a request to hire a local company to provide airborne surveillance for police.

The commission originally was scheduled to vote on the contract today. However, city officials said Tuesday afternoon that a vote is being delayed until commissioners can discuss the proposal in a public work session next Wednesday.

According to an agenda the city released Monday, commissioners are considering a $120,000 contract with Persistent Surveillance Systems for wide-area surveillance for the police department. PSS has operations in Beavercreek, Xenia and at Dayton’s Tech Town business park.

Ross McNutt, PSS president, said Tuesday surveillance services would come from a piloted aircraft flying above the city at about 10,000 feet. PSS provides the plane and the pilot, he said.

The plane will be able to monitor an area as large as Dayton’s entire downtown, McNutt said. Only with reports of crimes or instructions from police would the company’s equipment focus closely on specific areas, he said.

PSS camera systems boast a sensitivity 10 times greater than that of IMAX cameras (8.84 million pixels), McNutt, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said last year.

According to the proposed agreement with the city, PSS would provide 120 hours of airborne surveillance. Services will include installation, data capture, analysis and training for up to four police officers. Up to three analyst workstations will also be installed at Tech Town, as well, according to city documents…

Commissioners also are considering a $20,000 development agreement with PSS to build out and lease space on the second floor of a building at Tech Town.

The company’s lease will be nine months, with a four-year renewal option. The company is expected to invest $12,000 to build out the space, according to city documents.

via Dayton ponders airborne cameras.

The first question to be asked is was this contract competitively bid? The second question is why a manned aircraft when this is what drones do much more effectively and efficiently? A local businessman, Mark Herres, is busy selling solar powered drones with high rez cameras to Northrup Grumman (he was the same business man who was ignored on the Emery/UPS hub deal that went no-bid to IRG) that could do the same thing for more hours, for a lot less money.

The city, under police chief James Newby had a fancy for an eye in the sky around 20 years ago. We bought a hobbyists helicopter and trained at least four officers to fly it. After several years it was grounded, then sold off. Apparently, despite our fantasies of matching Columbus for air power in the fight against crime, putting the helicopter up fast enough to actually be useful during a crime wasn’t happening and the program was shot down. How does 120 hours a year really help? And, with the added need to have trained officers monitoring the video feed- maybe the real answer is to think about increasing the size of the police force instead? That’s what Mike Bloomberg did in NYC and saw drops in crime and in incarceration.

It is true that we have a large community of highly trained intelligence analysts in our community, who are in high demand to read and analyze satellite and drone imagery for the military, but, even with real time intelligence, the ability to thwart crime really comes at the hands of the cops on the street. No amount of video makes up for the ability to respond to a crime with appropriate resources. These “investments” in PSS look more like political favoritism in action. It’s a shame that there doesn’t exist an easy to search database of campaign donors to City Commission candidates. If I was a paid investigative journalist, I’d be scanning the donations to a certain City Commissioner who wants to be Mayor and see what the intelligence turns up.

A better investment than planes with cameras might be to invest in our fiber network and build in high resolution video cameras to be placed in key areas so that we have 24/7/365 visual assets in place. $140K will buy a decent number of high resolution cameras and DVRs that can be monitored from multiple locations- even crowd sourcing, to help cut down on crime.

A forward thinking commission would be willing to investigate other options- and discuss this in the legal weekly meeting of the commission, inviting local experts to share their knowledge. That’s one of the reasons I’m running for Dayton City Commission. Please consider a donation to my campaign.

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