LETTER: South Orange Posts FAQs on Police Video Camera System, to Host Meeting July 21

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To the editors:

As has been shared and discussed in Village public meetings and on social media, South Orange  elected officials, in collaboration with the South Orange Police Department (SOPD), Village administrative team, and the South Orange Community Policy Collaborative (CPC), are in the  process of reviewing SOPD policy surrounding how the Village Digital Video System (DVS) is  used in police operations. Our DVS is a combination of hardwired and wireless video systems  and is used by our Village for public safety purposes. 

DVS equipment is purchased through the Village capital budget and procurement process. In the fall, each department compiles their operating and capital budget requests which are  reviewed and modified by the Village Administrator. Capital budget requests related to DVS equipment are submitted by the Information Technology and Police Departments. The Administrator then prepares a Capital Budget for broader review. We encourage constituent awareness and participation in this process through a series of public meetings in which capital outlays are presented to the South Orange Board of Trustees (BOT) and various committees. After capital budget approval and pricing vetting has occurred, a resolution must be prepared  and approved by the Board of Trustees before the purchase is executed. These last steps  occurred in October 2020 (resolution) and April 2021 (payment) for cameras that were  approved in the 2020 capital budget.  

Over the course of these meetings, many of our residents have expressed concerns with respect to the Village DVS and how it is deployed. At this point, to give us time to share further information regarding our DVS practices and explore additional constituent input, DVS equipment purchases have been paused. Once constituent input is gathered and analyzed along with relevant research and data, the BOT will complete its Village DVS policy review and recommend any needed policy changes. Progress to date includes the following: 

  • SOPD public outreach through the CPC to share information on how the DVS is used,  related SOPD policy, and the SOPD process to establish their policy;  
  • BOT CPC outreach, asking for help in identifying best practices and policies related to DVS use. Subcommittee findings have been presented to the public and we hope to  receive the formal recommendations of the full CPC soon; and 
  • Compilation of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the SOPD web page to address  questions we’ve heard in public forums and more, which is now available at this link:  https://www.southorange.org/838/Digital-Video-System

While our law enforcement professionals have used cameras in public safety operations since the mid-1980s, with technology advances the inherent risks and trade-offs in their use have come into sharper focus. Policy development necessarily must account for associated risks such as privacy concerns, data security, and the bias that exists when artificial intelligence is used to analyze footage.

We welcome and encourage your input as we continue our policy review – please take some time to review the FAQs posted on the SOPD web page, stay tuned for more  information, and plan to join a virtual Village-wide discussion on this topic at 7:00 p.m. on July 21.

Donna Coallier

South Orange Village Trustee

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