Privacy SOS

While federal dollars have been directed at building a nation wide surveillance system and enlisting police in the fight against terrorism, federal funds for community policing and other programs to keep cops on the beat were severely cut back or redirected under the Bush administration.

Here in Massachusetts, we have evidence that the Department of Justice has spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars buying surveillance equipment for local police using money supposedly reserved for community policing. The DOJ's “COPS” grant program defines community policing as the following:

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.

Yet in 2008, the COPS grant provided $222,134 to the Massachusetts Sheriff's Association for the purchase, installation and maintenance of a vast facial recognition system to be implemented in every county statewide. Using surveillance technology like facial recognition does not “promote organizational strategies,” “support partnerships” or “proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues.” So why is COPS grant money buying these fancy toys for local law enforcement?

In some cases, local police themselves wish that a different funding stream was coming down the federal pipe. As it stands currently, police can easily access funds for surveillance and “terrorism” related technology purchases, but can hardly sustain an active force of police officers to patrol neighborhoods and work with communities.

“A City’s Police Force Now Doubts Terror Focus” was the headline of a New York Times article featuring the views of the police chief of Providence, Rhode Island and other cities as well as a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that public safety is being harmed by the focus on terrorism. In Providence, the police department had over a five-year period received $11.6 million in DHS grants, but only $4.5 million in grants to hire more officers and pay overtime.

“The department is battling homicides, robberies and gang shootings that the police in a number of cities say are as serious a threat as terrorism.”

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.