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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12 Responses

  1. Bubba Jones January 30, 2013 / 12:00 pm
    I sold PSS some of my excess office furniture a few years ago.  While we were unloading the furniture at their offices at the Greene County Airport, I talked to the employee about their business.  It’s been a few years and the details are a little fuzzy, but….
    If I remember correctly, PSS basically has two separate lines of business.  One is the contract flying of surveillance over specified areas.  The guy wasn’t specific, but I got the idea that they were flying border patrol / drug surveillance missions along the Mexican border at the time.  I think they only had a couple of planes at the time.
    The other line of business actually involved selling or leasing (I can’t remember) the actual camera technology to end users.  I remember the guy telling me about the resolution and the surveillance possibilities that it offered.  He said that they could have rooftop cameras mounted that could cover a wide area but that the resolution was so good that you could zoom in on a suspected perp’s face and see a clear enough picture to identify him, even though the camera might be mounted a mile or more away.  WOW!  
    I think if the city is hell-bent to spend money with PSS, it would be better spent on mounted, stationary cameras rather than $1000 per hour overflights.  You have a good point (as much as I hate to admit it! :) ) that trying to get an eye in the sky while a crime is in progress.  Plus, at 10,000 feet, all you’re going to get is a clear shot at the top of the perp’s head, not a face shot.  And the reason for the high altitude requirement is that the Dayton airport has a “Mode C Veil” that runs from the surface up to either 8,000 or 10,000 feet with a radius that goes from the middle of the airport to somewhere around just north of the Moraine Airport (by those big antenna towers with the flashing lights).
    With regards to Dayton’s ill fated helicopter experiment… I think they were running a Robinson R-22 helicopter which is not a “hobbyist” aircraft.  It is a certified helicopter that is in commercial service in all sorts of industries.  But, as expensive as fixed wing aircraft are to operate, a helicopter is even more expensive.  The last time I checked (which was a long time ago) an R-22 was over $200 an hour to rent. Add a pilot and a spotter to that and you’re talking about making a serious dent in the city’s budget!
  2. David Esrati January 30, 2013 / 12:29 pm

    @Bubba- I knew I could count on you to bring some detail to this. I guess the “Mode C Veil” is why the old Cox/WHIO TV tower on Wilmington doesn’t have to have strobes on it as they get ready to take it down?

    The city did have a Robinson R-22.  As to the “hobbyist” choice of words- it is – when compared to the 3 helicopters Columbus has.

    There are a whole bunch of other HD video feed systems out there now- including in cruiser systems that let the cops see the security feeds in participating locations. Imagine rolling up on a crime in progress at the local Quickie mart- and already having reviewed the robbery? These kinds of systems can have a real impact.

    Sorry to make you have to admit that I’ve made a good point. Spread the word- and donate.

  3. Bubba Jones January 30, 2013 / 2:55 pm
    I mis-typed when trying to describe the Mode-C area. (I shouldn’t try and handle 4 client issues and type a response here at the same time)  Think of it as an upside-down 2 layer wedding cake.  The smaller diameter layer is centered at the airport and runs from the surface up to 8 or 10,000 feet.  It has about a 3 mile radius.  Then the larger diameter layer is centered at the airport and starts at about 2,500 feet and goes up to 8 or 10,000 feet.  So, you can fly below 2500 feet around downtown Dayton and not be in the controlled airspace but as you get closer to the airport (Miller Lane area?) you would hit the part of the controlled airspace that extends to the surface.  You can still fly in that controlled airspace, you just have to get permission from the tower at Dayton to do so.  When WHIO had their eye-in-the-sky traffic reports, they used to do that all the time.
    Regardless of your learned opinion based on your vast knowledge of civilian aircraft, the R-22 is NOT a hobbyist helicopter.  An Aerokopter or a Rotorway is a hobbyest helicopter. 
    As far as my admission that you made a good point – don’t get used to it.  Based on past experience, it will be a very long time before you make another one.
  4. David Esrati January 30, 2013 / 3:04 pm

    @Bubba- from http://www.columbuspolice.org/AboutCPD/Highlights/highlights.html

    “In 1972 the Columbus Police Helicopter Unit was created and immediately became an integral part of the Columbus Division of Police. Since the inception of the unit over 193,000 flight hours have been flown. Today, the unit averages 5000 flight hours per year with base flight operations of 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. The unit utilizes 6 single-engine turbine MD500E helicopters which are flown by 16 sworn officers and supervisors. The mission of the Helicopter Unit is direct support for ground patrol officers. The base mission, aircraft, flight hours, and personnel make the CPD Helicopter Unit one of the largest municipal law enforcement aviation units in the United States. The unit is critical in suspect searches, missing children and elderly, vehicular pursuits, and assistance through mutual aid to other law enforcement agencies throughout the state of Ohio. Air support for officers underlines the base principle of force multiplication which contributes to the safety of citizens and officers.

    In July of 2009 the unit moved its’ base operations to a state of the art heliport. The heliport is 29,906 square feet which includes two hangers that total over 20,000 square feet and an administrative complex of 9,056 square feet. The administrative complex includes a classroom, aviation library, flight operations center, fitness area and supervisory and conference rooms.

    Statistically the unit is directly responsible for annual averages of over 300 felony arrests, over 200 misdemeanor arrests, and is first on the scene of dispatched runs approximately 40% of the time with an average response time of 1.3 minutes.  “

    Compare our one Robinson R-22 to this- and yes- we’re hobbyists.

  5. Kook January 30, 2013 / 5:56 pm
    Maybe the plane can zoom in on my street when it snows and see that it’s not plowed.
  6. Tom McMasters January 30, 2013 / 7:55 pm
    Concerning drones being available as surveillance devices:  There currently are very restrictive FAA rules that have to be followed in order to fly unmanned aircraft.  You may see some news stories and even advertisements for Unmanned Aircraft (also sometimes referred to as drones) doing things like monitoring a parade or even a university professor flying test flights up and down Col Glenn highway.  The people that conduct these flights either mistakenly believe model airplane rules apply or count on the FAA not to bother with enforcement of the Unmanned Aircraft Airworthiness Certificate.  These options would not be available for the City of Dayton.   
  7. Marla G January 31, 2013 / 8:46 pm
    seriously, $120k for 120 hours of surveillance?  I could run an entire prevention program for less for a year!
  8. An Analyst February 6, 2013 / 2:42 pm
    The third question is: should we pay tax dollars to enable the U.S. government, at any level, to acquire reconnaissance assets, which might be used to monitor U.S. citizens? What happened to intelligence oversight laws?
  9. David Esrati February 9, 2013 / 7:32 am

    Apparently, Seattle is more in tune with the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle systems that the Dayton Development Coalition keeps ramming down our throats as our economic salvation- they actually bought 2 drones to do police surveillance. Then they sent them back:

    SEATTLE (AP) – Seattle’s mayor on Thursday ordered the police department to abandon its plan to use drones after residents and privacy advocates protested.

    Mayor Mike McGinn said the department will not use two small drones it obtained through a federal grant. The unmanned aerial vehicles will be returned to the vendor, he said.

    “Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz, and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority,” the mayor said in a brief statement.

    The decision comes as the debate over drones heats up across the country. Lawmakers in at least 11 states are looking at plans to restrict the use of drones over their skies amid concerns the vehicles could be exploited to spy on Americans.

    The Seattle Police Department previously said it would use drones to provide an overhead view of large crime scenes, serious accidents, disasters, and search and rescue operations. It had conducted demonstrations of the drones to show the public their capabilities.

    The program drew strong criticism from residents Wednesday at a meeting of the City Council, which was considering an ordinance giving police the authority to use drones.

    via Seattle mayor ends police drone efforts – WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-.

    The vote on Dayton’s $1000 an hour spy plane has been delayed yet again:

    After a 45-minute presentation on the proposed use of high-tech airplane surveillance in the city, Dayton City Commissioners decided Wednesday to postpone any decision until after public discussions can be held on the topic.

    Commissioners Joey Williams and Matt Joseph said multiple residents had contacted them with questions about the proposed contract with Persistent Surveillance Systems.

    Williams said the city’s Community Police Council should meet about the issue, and Commissioner Nan Whaley said any civil liberty complaints about the cameras should be taken seriously.

    Williams said the contract is not likely to be voted on for several weeks. Police hope to use the technology this summer.

    At Wednesday’s work session, Police Chief Richard Biehl showed actual photos taken from a 2012 test run of the technology, which is effective only during daylight hours. The images come from a piloted aircraft, equipped with high-tech cameras, flying close to 10,000 feet above the city.

    PSS President Ross McNutt said technicians watching the video would not be able to make out a person’s face or a car’s license plate, and the very blurry images shown Wednesday confirmed that. But Biehl explained how the cameras did help solve a crime during last year’s test. Police reviewed video from a burglary site and tracked the suspect vehicle to its eventual destination, where police made an arrest.

    At Wednesday’s commission meeting, Dayton resident Maria Holt questioned the $1,000-per-hour cost, saying the city should focus on youth and poverty programs instead, to get at the root causes of crime.

    via Dayton’s airplane video plan delayed.

    Note- this was done in an illegal “work session” of the Dayton City Commission-

    From Sec 39 of the Dayton City Charter:

    The Commission shall meet at a place and time announced during the last Commission meeting of the previous year. Thereafter the Commissioners shall meet at such times as may be prescribed by ordinance or resolution, except that they shall not meet less than once each week.

    via DaytonCityCharter.pdf.


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