Minneapolis City Council Member Steve Fletcher remembers his pre-Super Bowl tour of the police command center, when the video feed was so crisp that cameras could zoom in on the front door of his downtown apartment building.
Now, two months after the Super Bowl festivities, the surveillance technology added for the occasion remains, and Fletcher wants more public discussion about what some of his constituents worry will be a permanent intrusion on their privacy.
“I don’t like to see things come in that feel like they were temporary and they just stick around,” Fletcher said. “That feels like we skipped a part of the process where we have a public discussion about the technology we’re using to keep ourselves safe.”
The new technology includes 17 cameras installed downtown by Verizon at no cost to the city — which join the 300 police cameras already recording throughout Minneapolis. There’s also a product called “FieldWatch,” which allows police officers to stream their cellphone video to the command center, and a system that allows police to get a 3-D view of the interior of a building, such as U.S. Bank Stadium, and track officers’ locations.
Police say they’re not sure if they will buy the cameras from Verizon once the contract expires this summer, but they plan to incorporate the rest into daily policing.
Minneapolis police Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher emphasized the boon to public safety this technology has already created.
Gerlicher said police went through every proper channel to receive approval from the Minneapolis City Council last year — before Fletcher was elected — with no condition that the contracts would end with the Super Bowl.
“I just want to make that perfectly clear,” he said. “We’re not circumventing any process or doing anything back door. This is all completely above board.”
Gerlicher said police may not have sought the technology if not for the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, they always intended to continue using these systems for major events, such as the 2019 NCAA Final Four tournament.
“I don’t know how we could be any more transparent,” he said.
Shane Zahn, who’s in charge of safety programs for the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and monitors the cameras from the police command center, also praised the added technology as a way to better monitor everything from crime to traffic from a single location.
“They are a valuable tool, I think, when it comes to public safety and vibrancy,” Zahn said.
Fletcher commended the policing around the Super Bowl, but he’s heard concerns from constituents about the advanced technology, he said.
He said he’s not necessarily opposed to more surveillance, and recognizes the potential for safety benefits. But he also believes the public should have the opportunity to learn more about the technology and offer input before police put it into permanent use.
“The balance of privacy and safety is a challenging one, but it’s important to take both very seriously,” Fletcher said. “And if we’re dismissive of either ... I think we’re not doing our job as a city that needs to be wrestling with this nuance and getting the policy right.”