Facial recognition technology ban could be on its way out in New Orleans

Since December 2020, NOPD has been barred from using facial recognition technology. But that could change as New Orleans City Council considers a potential repeal.
Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 4:34 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A repeal of a 16-month-old ban on the use of facial recognition and other types of surveillance technology by the New Orleans Police Department is on the table at the city council as privacy advocates prepare to square off with a council dead set on combatting crime.

The New Orleans City Council delayed making the decision on the proposed bill. Repealing the ordinance is aimed at giving the NOPD more options to fight the spike in crime.

The ban was passed in December 2020, before many of the current members of the New Orleans City Council were elected to their positions.

Back in February, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson held a press conference to address their plans to address the city’s rising crime rate.

One of the central points of their plan was putting technology in the hands of NOPD, including facial recognition technology. Cantrell said at the time she was working with councilmembers to draft an ordinance repealing the December 2020 legislation.

“This is called smart policing. We’re doing things smarter, we’re using technology,” said Chief John Thomas, Director of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the City of New Orleans. “This is only a tool to assist. We will not be getting any arrest warrants, we will not be applying for any arrest warrants based on this technology.”

Thomas said, if the ordinance is repealed and facial recognition technology comes into use by NOPD, the department is working on a set of guidelines that will serve as an oversight mechanism for how it will be used.

“It only pertains to violent crime: homicides, shootings, carjackings. It’s not traffic violations, or anything small, theft,” Thomas said.

But advocates, critical of the technology, have pointed out the technology is inherently biased against communities of color.

CRIMETRACKER

Thomas concedes but said NOPD would have to abide by guidelines approved by federal Department of Justice monitors.

“We have to continue to use technology as it’s built, but we have to put in the safeguards to ensure the community that we’re actually using it responsibly,” he said.

Eye on Surveillance has been one of the primary coalition opponents of the legislation, originally praising the city council when the first ordinance passed.

Dee Dee Green, one of the members of the coalition, said money should be invested in issues that tackle the root causes of crime, like affordable housing and food insecurity.

“Cameras don’t prevent crimes, and we think it’s important to put resources into maybe some of the root causes of crime or criminal activity,” she said. “There should be a real investment in people being able to eat and feed their children and make a livable wage, have access to affordable housing, rather than pouring money into programs, particularly surveillance programs, that don’t work.”

The potential repeal will be discussed at the next meeting on May 10 of the Criminal Justice Committee at 10 a.m. From there, if approved, it will go to the full council.

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