Call to Action: Oppose the Drones proposal on Oct 12

Is Concord ready for police drones?

Here are CCA, we don't think so. And we'll explain further below. But first, we encourage you to contact your city council member (click here) and let them know you oppose rushing through the process of implementing drones for police use in Concord. Because that's exactly what's happening. And then there are the questions about the source of grant funds, whose private interests may not be aligned with the public interests of Concord residents.

Drones can have a positive impact on some parts of police work. But even police industry support groups recommend implementing them in a way which invites key stakeholders - especially residents - into a process which develops policies, puts in place important control procedures and oversight, and is fully transparent. That hasn't happened between the first mention of a police drones program earlier this year and the proposal to implement a program which is on the city council agenda on Tuesday, Oct 12.

What steps should be taken in advance of a robust, community driven drones program? Here's the list of best practices:

  • Passing a "community control over police surveillance" (CCOPS) model law
  • Establishing a resident police oversight commission
  • Responding to public requests for more transparency and more regular and thorough releases of police activity data
  • Developing a robust drones policy in a collaborative public process

This is what good government and policy development looks like - collaboration, transparency, dialogue and trust building. This is not what happened this summer in Concord.

"Public" meetings

Late in the spring, CPD conducted by video conference what might best be called information meetings rather than real outreach. These meetings were announced in forums like NextDoor - which can have very limited visibility and access - often on very short notice. Concerns were expressed about the use of drones for surveillance, the need for more data to be made public, and the need for there to be a collaborative process by which appropriate policies were developed. Some requested that a resident police oversight commission be put in place prior to implementing a drone program.

Instead, CPD has proceeded towards implementing a very brief policy developed on an almost purely internal basis, and that draft policy was not made available to the public until Oct 7.

A template policy, no measurement of outcomes

CPD is basically proposing to implement a policy almost entirely based on a template from LEXIPOL. They haven't developed an independent, individualized policy for Concord, but are relying only on the protections already in the policy template. Their policy does not otherwise seem to consider community feedback.

The department has also not been able to provide guidance on outcome measures. In recent meetings, department representatives did acknowledge an intention to do so, but could not specify what those measures would be. The department's initial stance on measuring the outcomes of drone use seems to have been that the success of the program could not be measured. If anything, such vagueness only reinforces a lack of readiness.

As is the case when resident oversight is not a part of the picture, real partnership with the residents of Concord - real accountability - seems to have been given short shrift.

Grant money from a terrible source

One of the selling points made by in CPD's information meetings is that the program would have no budget impact due to a grant that would come from the private sector. In the public meetings, the source of the funds was never named. Late on Oct 7th - when the Oct 12th City Council agenda was published - it was revealed that the source of the grant is Marathon Petroleum.

Multiple credible and robust research and watchdog groups have reported that Marathon Petroleum has an active and well documented program to fund police activities and political campaigns which enhance surveillance capabilities, create harsher penalties for environmental protesters, and which protect their interests over and against those seeking to protect the climate and the environment, and the sustainability of human life.

The Institute for Policy Studies names Marathon Petroleum as a primary example in their white paper Muzzling Dissent - How Corporate Influence over Politics has Fueled Anti-Protest Laws. It is a matter of record that Marathon was very recently fined more than $2 million for refinery violations by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and has paid more than $1.4 billion in fines over a period of years for environmental, labor and other violations. cites them as a prime example in its research on how the fossil fuel industry pollutes minority communities while propping up racist policing.

They are a neighbor, but they aren't exactly a paragon of civic virtue. We can do better than this in Concord.

The bottom line

In brief: None of the work necessary to really prepare Concord for a good police drones program was pursued, never mind completed. And no real data has been provided to substantiate how drones will positively address real problems for which there is no other practicable solution, while also addressing  concerns about privacy and rights. Instead, the public was basically shut out of a process which failed to establish good marks for transparency, collaboration, basic good management principles, and accountability. This is not a step in the right direction.

Concord might be ready for a police drones program at some point in the future. That point will come after the Concord Police Department tackles policy development and community policing principles with the same level of professionalism with which they perform some aspects of their law enforcement role. That hasn't happened yet.

So no, Concord is not ready police drones, and the Concord City Council should defer any further consideration of police drones - and corporate grants to fund them - until the right preparatory work has been done.

Contact Your City Council Member! Tell them to slow down the police drones proposal.

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