BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Anyone passing through Beverly Hills is likely to notice lots of cameras — both from tourists and the police department. Thousands of security cameras dot the city, and recently helped authorities catch a suspected killer. But the advanced system is also raising privacy concerns.
On Saturday, officials announced the arrest of 33-year-old Jerrid Powell, a convicted felon suspected of murdering four SoCal men in a four-day span. They credited cutting-edge security technology used by Beverly Hills Police, which includes some 2,400 cameras, 24/7 monitoring, a drone and 50 automated license plate readers or "ALPRs."
"The suspect vehicle entered our city, the ALPR alerted the Real Time Watch Center, and between the great job of our dispatchers and our virtual patrol officers, they were able to direct officers to where the vehicle was," Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark G. Stainbrook said at Saturday’s briefing.
According to the BHPD, the Watch Center helped with 62 arrests and 110 stolen vehicle cases in its first year. But its presence raises alarms for privacy advocates like Hamid Khan of the STOP LAPD Spying Coalition, who says "The question is, do we want to live in a police state?"
Khan said that cases like Powell’s are usually outliers, and that vast security networks like the BHPD’s ultimately do more harm than good.
"I think this becomes a license to racially profile," he said Sunday. "It is a massive system of the information sharing environment which we call the ‘stalker state.’" He said the information collected can later be weaponized for "criminalized communities" and used to trace, track, monitor and stalk people. The system, he believes, also instills fear in marginalized communities.
"I think that we have to really look at it in the broader context of: ‘at what cost and what kind of harm is it causing in the long run,’" Khan said.
In a release on Sunday, the BHPD referred to the technology and the staff who use it as "precision policing."
"The combined efforts of sworn police officers and civilian staff, fueled by the integration of cutting-edge technology, exemplify a modern approach to policing. This synergy not only enhances operational efficiency, but also highlights BHPD’s commitment to public safety by leveraging innovation to stay ahead of evolving challenges, and ensuring a proactive and responsive approach to law enforcement. In addition, the use of this technology has allowed BHPD to assist federal and other state agencies with criminal investigations," the release said.
During a press conference Saturday, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore called advanced tech critical, particularly in Powell's capture.
"The safety net of what technology can provide us today for safer communities is critical," Moore said. "Had they not had access to those tools, this individual, I am convinced, would still be moving about the city and the region and killing individuals, innocent individuals, helpless individuals."