The increasing use of surveillance technologies by local police across America, especially against communities of color and other unjustly targeted groups, has been creating oppressive and stigmatizing environments in which every community member is treated like a prospective criminal. Many communities of color and of low income have been turned into virtual prisons where residents’ public behavior is monitored and scrutinized 24 hours a day. And in most cities, decisions to acquire and use surveillance technologies are made by police departments without any knowledge or input from the public or their elected officials. This secretive process has been condemned by groups across the political spectrum as antithetical to good government transparency and accountability principles.
It was against this backdrop that the Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort was launched on September 21, 2016. The effort’s principal objective is to pass CCOPS laws that ensure residents, through local city councils are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used, through a process that maximizes the public’s influence over those decisions.
The CCOPS effort gained additional urgency on November 8, 2016 when Donald Trump was elected president on a platform that included identifying and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, tracking Muslims, and even more aggressively policing communities of color. To effectuate these policies, especially with respect to pursing undocumented persons in “sanctuary cities,” we knew Trump would need local police to provide access to their surveillance technologies. Passing CCOPS laws would empower city councils to say “no” to secret surveillance sharing agreements between the feds and local police.
Since then, enthusiasm for the CCOPS has spread across the nation. CCOPS laws have already been secured in more than a dozen jurisdictions and local CCOPS efforts have sprouted up in more than thirty cities, ranging in size from a few thousand residents to more than 8 million. Maine and California have sponsored statewide CCOPS legislation, and other states may soon join them.
On August 28, 2017, our CCOPS efforts were implicated when Trump signed an executive order allowing for the greater transfer of U.S. military equipment to local police departments. Now, just as with surveillance technologies, local police forces were being empowered to acquire military equipment without any public knowledge or consent. To address this duel threat to civil rights and civil liberties, a sister effort called Community Control Over Police Surveillance + Militarization (CCOPS+M) was established. Now, for cities looking to apply CCOPS transparency and public empowerment principles to efforts by local police to acquire military equipment, a broader CCOPS+M model bill is available.
If you are concerned about your local police acquiring and using secret surveillance technologies or military equipment, it is time to demand your elected representatives adopt a CCOPS or CCOPS+M law today!