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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 [1]):

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 [2] 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 [3].

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 [4].

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 [5].

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed [6]! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating [7]. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!
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Bubba Jones

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… Read more »

Bubba Jones

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.


Maybe the plane can zoom in on my street when it snows and see that it’s not plowed.

Tom McMasters

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.   

Marla G

seriously, $120k for 120 hours of surveillance?  I could run an entire prevention program for less for a year!

An Analyst

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?

[…] Surveillance is a hot topic in Dayton right now. See: What is needed more? An eye in the sky- or an eye on our commission? for background. On the one side you have the Dayton Development Coalition fawning over the prospect […]


[…] written about this before: What is needed more? An eye in the sky- or an eye on our commission? And it came up in our Independent candidates video two weeks ago: Dayton Independent Candidates on […]

David Lauri