(Courtesy of www.flocksafety.com)

The village of Oak Park will be utilizing the services of Flock Safety Inc. to bring eight automatic license plate reading cameras to as yet-undetermined Oak Park locations. The decision came Monday night as a compromise after the original resolution for a two-year Flock contract worth $112,500 to purchase 20 cameras and the associated software was struck down.

“I am not comfortable with 20 cameras at this time,” Village President Vicki Scaman said, before voting against the original resolution.

That resolution’s defeat was narrow, with four board members voting against it and three voting in favor of it. The second resolution for eight cameras, brought forth by Scaman, passed by a thin margin as well; four board members voted in favor of it and three against it. Scaman, naturally, voted in favor of her compromise.

For both resolutions, Trustees Jim Taglia, Ravi Parakkat and Lucia Robinson voted in favor of Flock, while Trustees Susan Buchanan, Chibuike Enyia and Arti Walker-Peddakotla were in opposition.

The controversial surveillance technology is intended for police use as an investigative tool to help solve crimes, not prevent them. However, several village board members and members of the public believe that the system leaves people of color open to potential police racial profiling and the security of all people’s personal information at risk. Just who owns the data acquired through Flock was another major concern.

Parakkat acknowledged that the “risk of abuse exists,” but remained staunchly in favor of the technology, stating that the crime solving benefits and cost effectiveness outweighed any potential downsides, including errors made by the Flock system.

In an impassioned speech against Flock, Walker-Peddakotala said the technology would turn Oak Park into a “virtual sundown town” and “surveillance state.” She invoked the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., discussed the prison industrial complex and made note of her stance as a law enforcement abolitionist.

Oak Park’s police department has already used Flock databases but never purchased cameras. Robinson leaned on this to argue that the system has already proven useful to Oak Park.

“We don’t even have to guess what the impact is going to be on this community,” she said. “It’s been a proven method in solving crime in this community.”

Enyia, however, felt that the village board had not engaged the community enough or its commissions during this process. He also believed Flock’s presence would provide an uninviting atmosphere to the village, which would go against the principles of Oak Park.

“Who are we if we’re saying we’re a welcoming village, but this is how we’re welcoming you – we’re flashing your license plate real quick just to see if you’re good,” he said.

Scaman’s compromise included a modified resolution for the purchase of eight Flock cameras and the necessary software with the contingency that the village’s Civic Information System Commission thoroughly vet a privacy policy and that the Citizen Police Oversight Committee review usage reports monthly.

Despite the contingency included in Scaman’s motion, neither CISC nor CPOC were given the opportunity to appraise Flock and make recommendations to the board prior to board discussion. The counsel of the Community Relations Commission, which submitted a letter to the village board in strong opposition to Flock, was likewise not requested by the village board. Scaman apologized to the commissions for the board’s failure to include them. The village board had previously promised greater commission involvement in its decision making.

It should be noted, as many public commenters did, that the village board did not seek the advice of BerryDunn, the consulting firm currently conducting an assessment of the Oak Park Police Department, nor did it choose to shelve the resolution until the assessment was completed. Many public commenters, however, urged them to do so.

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