John McDaid's blog

Portsmouth Council votes 7-0 to reverse support for ALPRs

At the July 11 meeting, the Portsmouth Town Council voted 7-0 to rescind their approval of the pilot program to place Automated License Plate Readers at the approaches to the Mt. Hope Bridge.

The testimony of Portsmouth residents at the meeting--and the many calls, e-mails, and letters the Council received--citing privacy concerns and expressing doubt about the claims these cameras would be effective at suicide prevention led the councilors to reconsider their position.

One factor had to be the analysis the RI ACLU delivered prior to the meeting highlighting the civil liberties and governance concerns. You can read it here.

Thanks to the many folx who turned out, wrote in, and spoke up. And thanks to the members of the Portsmouth Town Council, who were willing to reconsider this decision, listen to the concerns of residents, and do the right thing.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, ALPR

Followup for Portsmouth Town Council on license plate readers at Mt. Hope Bridge

Members of the Council:

Following up on my prior letter to the Council, I'm very grateful for the initial response I've received and the tentative approval to place this item on the agenda at the July 11 meeting for reconsideration. As backup for that discussion, I'm attaching a PDF of the minutes of the Bristol Town Council meeting of May 11 when the proposal was discussed there as well as the Bristol PD policy on ALPR.

It is significant to note that Bristol Town Council agenda item was not for "consideration" but rather for "presentation," and their action was to "receive and file." So Portsmouth may have taken action based on an assumption about what Bristol had done which may not be accurate: this was not a robust hearing about the facts, but a presentation from the PD.

Getting to the policy, I have annotated the enclosed document to highlight differences, as well as points that bear further scrutiny.

There is a significant difference in the usage policy (Section II of the PD policy document) with Bristol adding a paragraph specifying broader uses (including homeland security, which renders the exclusion of ICE and CBP moot.) It is important to note that Portsmouth residents driving over the bridge would necessarily be subject to this, even if Portsmouth PD policy differs.

Another key difference is government oversight. In Section IV, which bears on acquisition of ALPR or expansion of scope, the Bristol PD requires an "advertised public hearing," while the Portsmouth PD only requires a "public presentation to the Town Council." A presentation is not a hearing. Democratically elected officials exercising oversight is critical, and while I trust both the Council and the Portsmouth PD, there is no substitute for public input.

Section V, Portsmouth adds "vehicles associated with criminal investigations" to the list of ALPR uses. Odd for something being justified for suicide prevention. It's almost as if suicide prevention is a pretext for inserting these cameras into our community.

This is a minor but telling nit: Section V (E) shows that Portsmouth PD simply started with a thoroughgoing copy of the Bristol PD policy, since it includes the transposition of CPB [sic] for CBP.

And another nit: Section VI (G). On a purely technical note, the phrase used here is "Chief of Police or his designee." Since this is a policy theoretically meant to survive for some duration, would it not be more appropriate to say "their" designee.

Section VI(G)5 specifies multiple locally created hot lists to be loaded into the system for scanning: SIU, Detectives, Traffic, and All Department. If this is really for suicide prevention, what are all these hot lists for?

In the Bristol backup, Flock justified their single-source contractor status by saying that they are the only company with the capabilities to "analyze vehicle license plate, state recognition, vehicle color, vehicle type, vehicle make and objects (roof rack, unique hubcap, etc.) based on image analytics." Again, this belies the label "ALPR" for these cameras; they capture much, much more than license plates. The words we use to describe things matter, and ALPR conceals more than it reveals about what these cameras do.

And the inclusion of the discussion of single source raises questions about the acquisition process: If Portsmouth PD were going to pay for these cameras, wouldn't they have to go out to bid? Is running a "free" pilot program just a way to bypass the bidding process? Who pays to take the cameras down at the end of the "pilot?" Or does Flock expect that this will just roll over into a yearly $5,000 subscription?

And speaking of "free," given that the cameras require maintaining local "hit lists" (including a requirement for weekly audits of lists) and the policy specifies a mandatory quarterly data audit, as well as the creation of a "transparency portal" updated quarterly, that means there is a non-zero staff time cost, which I assume was not factored into the decision.

I thank the Council for your time and consideration, and for all you do for our town.

Best regards.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, civil liberties, ALPR

Help Portsmouth students travel to DC for President's Environmental Award

 

Portsmouth, RI – A group of Portsmouth students have been awarded The President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA), a prestigious national award which recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship projects developed by K-12 youth. Their winning project is the establishment of the Portsmouth AgInnovation Farm, a student-driven, community farm program where kids learn about sustainable agriculture with hands-on problem-solving experiences. Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with EPA to recognize young people for protecting our nation's air, water, land, and ecology.

The AgInnovation Farm program is a partnership with Portsmouth Middle School and ERICD and is located at Cloverbud Ranch. AgInnovation student, Anabella Barber, said, “AgInnovation is an amazing learning environment. What makes it appealing is that everyone has the option to choose what activity they want to take part in on the farm. Whether it’s helping with irrigation, building new tables for the schoolhouse, or just hanging out with the chickens, everyone is participating in something they truly enjoy.”

The students are trying to make their way to Washington D.C. for the EPA’s award ceremony on August 4 to accept the award. The Grand Hyatt has graciously offered a reduced lodging rate and the students have elected to take the train to DC to reduce costs. A fundraising goal of $5,000 has been set to cover transport and lodging. AgInnovation parent, Monica DeAngelis said, “Some of our student winners have never been to Washington, DC, so in addition to attending the award ceremony, they also hope to take in some of the sights and sounds of the city.” She added, “This award is a huge deal, not only for the kids, but for the area; we want the students to have the opportunity to represent our community at the ceremony.” 

The students being recognized are Tatum Brennan, Maggie Mullen, Brooke O’Brien, Noah Sidewand, Owen Sidewand, Anabella Barber, Rowen Willet, Stella McInerney, Aurelius Brockman, Elle McFadden, Elizabeth Lantz, Fiona Sarro, Olivia Purdy, Olivia Almilli, and Cameron Davis.

For more information and to support the students, please visit www.easternriconservation.org/award. Company sponsorship opportunities are available, please contact Sara Churgin at schurgin.ericd@gmail.com or 401-934-0842.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, PSD

Request to Portsmouth Town Council to reconsider license plate readers at Mt. Hope Bridge

Members of the Council:
I write to ask you to reconsider your approval, at your last meeting, of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) at the approaches to the Mount Hope Bridge. While the goal of suicide prevention is laudable, recording and searching 450,000 license plates each month is a serious intrusion into the privacy of everyday Rhode Islanders and is out of proportion to the number of lives such an action would purportedly save.

The solution to preventing jumpers is nets, not surveillance. The inclusion in the recently approved state budget of funding to begin the process of adding suicide barriers to the state's bridges makes adding ALPRs particularly ill-timed and redundant. Using this as a justification no longer passes the test of "least restrictive means" test for objectives at odds with Constitutional rights to privacy. For this reason alone, I urge the Council to abandon this project.

Nor does it seem that the vendor, Flock Safety, considers suicide prevention to be part of their core mission. Their web site leads with "Reduce crime in your community by up to 70%" and "Protect against property crime, violent crime, stolen vehicles, and more." The one mention of suicide prevention is an unattributed anecdote about a single case in Tega Cay, SC. No news articles could be found in a web search to substantiate this solitary claim. If this really was a featured benefit of the system, one would expect there to be more robust support; a general web search turned up no news stories in which ALPR were mentioned in preventing suicides. The use of this technology appears to be a solution in search of a problem at best, and at worst, a pretext by which to insert this vendor's cameras into our community.

Flock's web site claims that their cameras "capture objective evidence, make it actionable with machine learning." As someone familiar with ML, I can categorically state that all such systems are inherently imperfect -- that's the *nature* of machine learning. ML systems use weighted probabilities to tune their recognition, and they are susceptible to bias introduced by the sample sets used to train them. The point is that such systems can not, by their essential nature, be trusted not to produce false positives. The consequences of a police intervention that goes wrong based on an erroneous hit are clearly a foreseeable risk.

Turning to the Portsmouth PD policy included in the backup for the meeting, section III(F) articulates that the ALPR hits may include (but are not limited to) "stolen car, wanted person, missing person, domestic violation protective order or terrorist-related activity." If the stated objective of this deployment is suicide prevention, where is that in the list?

In section V(B) the policy states that ALPR will not be used to record identifying features of a vehicle like color, bumper stickers, or unique details "unless for a purpose authorized under subsection (a)" -- but section A casts a very wide net indeed, including vehicles associated with wanted, missing, or endangered persons, stolen vehicles, vehicles that return an NCIC match, and vehicles associated with criminal investigations. So any vehicle that falls into one of those categories will have more than its plate recorded.

And the Flock FAQ, included in backup, is emphatic on what will be captured (page 2, paragraph 3): "The Falcon captures the make, vehicle type, color, license plate (full, partial, missing), state of the license plate, and the unique features of the vehicle, including damage and after-market alterations." Captured and stored for a month and searchable. This should make anyone driving over the Mount Hope Bridge uncomfortable.

Policy section V(B) makes a point of saying that the number of times a vehicle travels past the camera will not be tracked -- but, again, the exception in V(C) says that "suicide prevention" would make tracking allowable. Is that only in the case of an existing BOLO, or is this a prospective machine-learning sifting through the data to find multiple crossings within a time span? Without clarification, this is unacceptably muddy. Students attending Roger Williams University who live in Portsmouth will undoubtedly be erroneously flagged up by the system, which will both waste PD time and send a very unwelcome message.

In section V(H), the policy states that Flock will "ensure proper maintenance and security of data stored in their data towers." As a career IT professional, I have no idea what a "data tower" is. Furthermore, in the Flock Safety FAQ included in the backup, on page 3 paragraph 7, it states that the footage is "stored in the cloud." These two statements are irreconcilable. Either it is Flock's data center or it is not. If it is not, then who is Flock's cloud service provider? Does Flock have control over those servers? What are the physical security provisions at the cloud provider's data center? These are questions that need to be answered about any storage of sensitive data.

In the section on procedure, IV(F), "F Officers will not take any police action that restricts the freedom of any individual based solely on an ALPR alert unless it has been validated." It's not clear from context what the standard for "validation" is here.

The section continues, "Officers are reminded that they need to have reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to make an enforcement stop of any vehicle...[...]...Officers should attempt to visually match the driver or should have another legal basis for making the stop." I am very uncomfortable with the use of the word "should" here; the Fourth Amendment requires a "must." If you have not committed a crime in an officer's presence or the officer has no reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify such action, there *must* be no seizure. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 US 1(1968)5(b).

For these reasons, which I am happy to reiterate in person should you choose to reconsider this at a future meeting, I respectfully request that the Council rescind their approval.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and for all you do for our Town.

Best regards.

Edited 2:53pm 6/20/22 to correct the number of cars crossing the bridge each month; the math mistake was mine.

Edit 6/25. Followup here: http://harddeadlines.com/2022/06/23/followup-portsmouth-town-council-license-plate-readers-mt-hope-bridge

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, Town Council, civil liberties, ALPR

Family plots launched in in Portsmouth AgInnovation Farm

AgInnovation and Eastern Conservation District logosThe Portsmouth AgInnovation Farm has announced that it is making available family farm plots to community members for the 2022 Spring and Summer growing season. The plots are located at the Portsmouth AgInnovation Farm on Jepson Lane in Portsmouth. The farm is located at Cloverbud Ranch and is a partnership between the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (ERICD) and Portsmouth School District.

Everything about the farm is focused on education around sustainable agriculture. “Kids these days are so disconnected from where food is grown. To them, food comes from the fridge,” said Margie Brennan, Portsmouth School District’s science coach and coordinator for the project. “We wanted to give kids an opportunity to learn about sustainable agriculture by doing it.” Portsmouth Middle School has been a key partner in the project and will hold STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education classes, as well as after-school programs at the farm.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans’ diets are out of balance with federal recommendations. “While people in the United States are consuming more vegetables and fruit than in 1970, the average U.S. diet still falls short of the recommendations in the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for these major food groups” (source: USDA).

The Portsmouth AgInnovation Farm is a project of Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District (ERICD). Sara Churgin, ERICD District Manager, said, “This is a project that will positively affect the entire island community. Children and families will be introduced to healthy eating as well as farming, an extremely important business – especially in light of COVID-19 with food security being threatened.”

Much headway has been made on the farm. Portions of the farm have been tilled and prepared for planting. A storage shed, classroom, and seasonal high tunnel have been installed. Plans for the farm include a pollinator garden, outdoor classroom with pavilion, deer fencing, and irrigation. Churgin said, “Some of the projects have been funded, but there is still great opportunity for support. We have been overwhelmed with the time and effort people have already invested in the farm and we can’t wait to see what’s next.” 

The family farm plots are $30 for the season and financial assistance is available. Families will be responsible for maintaining their plot and must adhere to safety regulations. 

To sign up, visit www.easternriconservation.org/aginnovation-farm or email Emma Crisfield at ecrisfield.ericd@gmail.com. For more information on ERICD or to sign up for email updates, visit www.easternriconservation.org.

Editorial note: From a press release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, AgInnovation

Portsmouth Water Board election June 8

The Portsmouth Water and Fire District will hold its annual election of officers on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 at the District's main office at 1944 East Main Road. The polls will open at 7:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM.

Of the Board's seven seats, the positions of one (1) Moderator and one (1) Treasurer are up for election.

Running for the position of Moderator is David G. Reise of 66 Freeborn St.

Running for the position of Treasurer is William L. Douglas, Jr. of 524 Middle Rd.

Voters will be required to show identification to vote in the District’s election.

Editorial note: From a Portsmouth Water and Fire District news release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, pwfd

Suicide prevention bill named for Portsmouth teen signed into law

Bill signing with Gov. McKee, Sen. Seveney, Rep. Cortvriend


STATE HOUSE – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend and Sen. James A. Seveney has been signed into law to require all public school districts to adopt suicide prevention policies and train all personnel in suicide awareness and prevention annually.

The Nathan Bruno and Jason Flatt Act (2021-H 53532021-S 0031) will require all school personnel — including teachers, administration, custodians, lunch personnel, substitutes, nurses, coaches, and coaching staff, even if volunteers — to be trained in suicide prevention and awareness. The state Department of Education will establish the guidelines for the training curriculum.

The bill is named for Nathan Bruno, a 15-year-old Portsmouth High School student who took his life in 2018.  Part of the bill is modeled after a state law passed in Tennessee and 19 other states, which was named after Jason Flatt, a 16-year-old from Nashville who died by suicide.

Flanked by Representative Cortvriend, Senator Seveney and Nathan Bruno’s family and friends, Gov. Daniel McKee ceremonially signed the bill Friday at the second annual Be Great For Nate Gala at Ochre Court in Newport.

“Suicide awareness and prevention is critical for students of all ages,” said Senator Seveney (D-11). “We must take action to ensure all adults with whom they interact at school are able to recognize the signs of students who are at risk. Nathan Bruno’s tragic death showed us how important it is for everyone who works with students to recognize the signs and to know how to properly handle those situations. It can save kids’ lives.”

Said Representative Cortvriend (D-72), “Our state and our country are facing alarmingly high rates of suicide. Children of all ages face pressure from all angles in today’s society. Social media, self-acceptance, bullies, drugs and alcohol, athletics, image, relationships, and home issues are just a few of the many pressures our children face every day. Kids need support from the adults in their lives, and this bill strives to ensure the adults they see every day at school are ready to recognize their needs and connect them to help when necessary.”

Several of Bruno’s friends formed a nonprofit called “Be Great for Nate” and an associated program called the Every Student Initiative. They approached the sponsors with the ideas that became this legislation. For more information about the Every Student Initiative and mental health awareness resources, visit bg4n.org/esi.

According to the Department of Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Rhode Islanders between the ages of 15 and 34. In 2017, 15.9% of surveyed Rhode Island high school students they had considered suicide and 10.5% said they had attempted suicide. One in nine middle school students surveyed in Rhode Island that year reported having made a suicide plan.

Editorial note: Written from a State House news release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, GA

Legislation banning guns from school grounds passed by the Senate and the House

STATE HOUSE – Both the Senate and the House today passed legislation which would prohibit anyone, with certain exceptions, from bringing a firearm onto school property.  The Senate version of the bill (2021-S 0073) is sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and the House legislation (2021-H 5555A) is sponsored by Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian.

The bills are named The Harold M. Metts School Safety Act of 2021 in honor of its longtime champion in the Senate.  Whip Kazarian has introduced the legislation for the past several sessions.

“Guns do not belong in schools, and private citizens have no business bringing a gun on school property,” said President Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). “Citizens carrying firearms in schools increases risk, not safety. There have been dozens of examples of mishandling and accidental discharge of firearms in schools across our nation.  We are working hard to improve education in our state. The presence of firearms in schools is detrimental to a positive learning environment.”            

“Our nation has suffered so many horrific and tragic school shootings. Every parent deserves an assurance that no one is allowed to enter their child’s school armed. Guns simply have no place in schools, and we shouldn’t accept a situation that allows anyone outside the police to carry them there,” said Whip Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence). “This legislation give schools the same protections already afforded to the Rhode Island Convention Center, our post offices as well as our very own State House.”

“My Office prosecutes hundreds of gun crimes every year and it is through that experience that I have seen the trauma caused by gun violence,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “The Harold M. Metts School Safety Act is a common-sense step that lowers the risk of gun violence and enhances the safety of anyone in and around our schools. I applaud the work of Senate President Ruggerio, Representative Kazarian, the General Assembly, my fellow general officers, and advocates for their work in passing this important piece of legislation.”

This legislation would prohibit the possession of firearms on school grounds except for peace officers, retired law enforcement officers, persons under contract to provide school security services, and unloaded firearms in locked containers or a locked rack in a motor vehicle.

The legislation would apply to the property of any public or private elementary or secondary school, including school buses. Activities that would be exempt from the proposed law include firearm instruction and/or safety courses; government-sponsored military-related programs such as ROTC; interscholastic shooting and/or marksmanship events; military history and firearms collection courses; and the use of blank guns used in theatrical or athletic events.

President Ruggerio’s bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration and Whip Kazarian’s bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Note: Written from a State House news release.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, GA, RICAGV

New song wins contest at NE Filk Convention

Totally chuffed that the piece I wrote two weeks ago won the song contest at the Northeast Filk Convention.

This is really special, since it was four years ago this weekend that I attended my first filk con—NEFilk—at the suggestion of Merav Hoffman who pulled me aside at Arisia and said, hey, did you know there are whole cons devoted to filk? I hadn't.

Thanks to everyone who listened and voted, and much respect to everyone who entered -- this was a wonderful collection of songs. I'm honored and delighted.

Link to the song on Bandcamp and a cheap and cheerful music video on YouTube.

Tags: 
02871, Localblogging, Music

Portsmouth Water District elections on June 9

The Portsmouth Water and Fire District will hold its annual election of officers on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 at the District's main office at 1944 East Main Road. The polls will open at 7:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM.

Of the Board's seven seats, the positions of one (1) Tax Collector and two (2) Tax Assessors are up for election.

Running for the position of Tax Collector is Frederick W. Faerber, III of 271 Sprague St.

Running for the position of Tax Assessor are Theodore T. Czech of 120 Roger Williams Ct. and David M. Gleason of 63 Massasoit Ave.

As required by State Law, voters will be required to show identification to vote in the District’s election.

Editorial note: Written from a PWFD press release.

Tags: 
02871, pwfd

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