Note: After you finish rocking out to Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me, press play on the video above and hear from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department about the experiment in Compton and how they didn’t inform the residents.
If you live in Compton and you had a sneaking feeling that you were being watched at all hours of the day and night from up above, guess what? You were probably right and everybody who said that you were crazy owes you an apology.
Below is an excerpt from a recent story in The Atlantic “Eyes Over Compton: How Police Spied on a Whole City” detailing a 2012 mass surveillance experiment conducted on residents in the city of Compton without their knowledge. It’s infuriating and only stresses the point that the upcoming sheriff’s election is one that requires all of us, not some of us, to be engaged and informed.
The only thing more disturbing than this story is a tweet today from Compton’s Mayor Aja Brown:
I wonder what former Compton mayor and Assistant District Attorney Eric Perrodin knew about it.
Somebody needs call Steve Whitmore to ask him if he can ask his buddy Baca what the hell? I mean really.
Eyes Over Compton: How Police Spied on Whole City
In a secret test of mass surveillance technology, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent a civilian aircraft over Compton, California, capturing high-resolution video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality.
Compton residents weren’t told about the spying, which happened in 2012. “We literally watched all of Compton during the times that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” Ross McNutt of Persistence Surveillance Systems told the Center for Investigative Reporting, which unearthed and did the first reporting on this important story. The technology he’s trying to sell to police departments all over America can stay aloft for up to six hours. Like Google Earth, it enables police to zoom in on certain areas. And like TiVo, it permits them to rewind, so that they can look back and see what happened anywhere they weren’t watching in real time.
A sergeant in the L.A. County Sheriff’s office compared the technology to Big Brother, which didn’t stop him from deploying it over a string of necklace snatchings.
Sgt. Douglas Iketani acknowledges that his agency hid the experiment to avoid public opposition.
“This system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,”he said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so to mitigate those kinds of complaints we basically kept it pretty hush hush.”
He later explains that while the public may think its against this, we’ll get used to it:
“I’m sure that once people find out this experiment went on they might be a little upset. But knowing that we can’t see into their bedroom windows, we can’t see into their pools, we can’t see into their showers. You know, I’m sure they’ll be okay with it. With the amount of technology out in today’s age, with cameras in ATMs, at every 7/11, at every supermarket, pretty much every light poll, all the license plate cameras, the red light cameras, people have just gotten used to being watched.”
So my first question is, why Compton? My second question is, if this experiment had taken place in a more affluent part of the county, would a sergeant get away with saying that his agency hid the experiment to avoid public opposition?
Update 9:31 p.m.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has issued an official statement now that the cats been let out of the bag about their 2012 secret mass surveillance experiment conducted on the residents of Compton. The department claims that it nixed the program because it was not useful for the agency’s crime-fighting needs.
The fact that they conducted the experiment seemingly without notifying anyone of their plans is only one small part of this problem. The bigger issue, at least for me, is that it is inconceivable to me that the LASD would allow a sergeant to be quoted by any media basically saying, ‘yeah we did it and we didn’t tell them because you know how people get about this kind of stuff.’
Sgt. Douglas Iketani acknowledged that his agency hid the experiment to avoid public opposition.
“This system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” he said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so to mitigate those kinds of complaints we basically kept it pretty hush hush.”
Compton and its residents are not guinea pigs. The residents of Compton are not stupid. And more importantly, is this how the LASD feels about the city of Compton and its residents?
The cavalier attitude of Sgt. Iketani cannot go unchecked by the public or by the LASD.
Given the numerous scandals and controversies plaguing the Sheriff’s Department right now, this is a perfect opportunity for them to show us all that it’s a new day within the department. I don’t want to say that Iketani needs to go, we’ve all put our foot in our mouths at some point in our lives, but he definitely needs to be disciplined for those comments he made.
In addition to disciplinary action, Iketani, not the LASD’s Compton Captain Leonard McCray, needs to come down to the city council and explain himself as well as apologize to the residents of Compton for his insensitive and troubling on camera remarks. Compton residents are not the only people in America who have issues with “Big Brother” or being spied on and his comments reek of racism.
After Sgt. Iketani, then we need to hear from the LASD on how all of this was able to happen without the residents being notified, otherwise known as the truth and not the usual shuck-and-jive that’s peddled in their news releases and via their public mouthpiece Steve Whitmore.
The questions that need to be answered are (1) Whose idea was it? (2) Who okayed it? (3) Was there any communication from the LASD with Compton’s city manager, mayor, and or city councilmembers and if so with whom? (4) Who okayed not notifying the public? (5) Was this the first time this has happened? and (6) Has it happened again since 2012?
The current city manager, mayor, and councilmembers need to go on the record on what happened as well as what steps they are going to take to make sure that residents in Compton are kept in the loop on any other similar projects.
But it shouldn’t end there.
This happened in 2011 and 2012 according to the oral report given by Compton’s Captain McCray, under disgraced Lee Baca and former Compton mayor and current Assistant District Attorney Eric Perrodin’s watch. While there maybe nothing that can be done to either of them and it’s highly doubtful they’d even come forth to explain their roles in the experiment, for those opposed to secret or not so secret mass surveillance of the public they should take their concerns to the seven men running for replace Lee Baca as the top sheriff. I would explicitly ask Gardena mayor and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, as well as Baca insiders Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold did they know about the experiment. It’s a yes or no type of question. Then I would ask all of the candidates what is their position on mass surveillance and experiment involving mass surveillance as well as what would be their policy regarding public notification of mass surveillance experiments like the one conducted on Compton.
Look, I am not oblivious to the fact that I can be watched and tracked by the powers that be. Hell, when I check-in on Facebook, drive my car, and use my cellphone, I am inviting them to do so. So for me the experiment itself is not the issue, I’ve resigned myself to the idea that even in my bed in the dead of night, somebody is watching me. It’s the cloud of secrecy around the experiment and the decision not to inform the public so as to not have to deal with opposition or public outrage.
Compton’s taxpayers foot the bill for the LASD in their city and that shouldn’t be forgotten or taken for granted. Compton residents are not the only people who find this kind of experimentation creepy either. Public outrage and opposition comes with the job and the LASD knows that. It’s experiments like this that justifiably intensify and amplify that outrage. Deal with it.