City of Lexington Continues Court Fight to Keep Surveillance Program Secret

After losing yet another round in Fayette Circuit Court, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government has decided to take its fight to keep its “mobile surveillance cameras” a secret to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

On June 19, Fayette County Circuit Court Judge John Reynolds issued an order granting a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed against me and ordered the Lexington Police Department to release documents related to 29 surveillance cameras it owns and operates.

Reynolds said the city did not meet its burden of proof and “failed to assert an applicable provision of the KRS or other binding precedent which would allow the denial of the information requested by Maharrey.”

The LFUCG asked for reconsideration and entered a motion to alter, amend or vacate the judgment. After a hearing on June 22, Reynolds overruled the city’s motion and once again ordered the Lexington Police Department to turn over documents related to the cameras.

Instead of ending the fight and complying with the judge’s order, the city filed a notice of appeal on July 23. The case will now move to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. For whatever reason, the city has dug its heels in and won’t back down – even after getting smacked down by the attorney general’s office and a circuit court judge – twice. It makes you wonder what they are so desperate to hide.

The LFUCG claims revealing any information at all about these super-secret surveillance cameras will jeopardize officer safety. At one point, city attorney Michael Sanner claimed the police department would have to buy new equipment if it has to disclose the type of cameras or the policies guiding their use. The hysterics reached a pinnacle during the second hearing when Sanner claimed revealing information about the cameras could jeopardize officer safety all over the country.

Not only does the open records statute not support the city’s basis for exempting these documents, they whole officer safety thing just doesn’t seem plausible. The lawyers at the AG’s office didn’t find it plausible. Judge Reynolds didn’t find it plausible. Perhaps a panel of appellate court judges will find it plausible. I guess we’ll find out.

The lesson in all of this is that we should have had this discussion before the police department ever acquired and started using these cameras. I shouldn’t have to get sued in order to find out how the city surveils the community. Furthermore, the city should not operate this kind of potentially invasive technology without firm policies in place directing how, when and where it’s used, and establishing concrete policies directing how information is stored and shared.

I started We See You Watching Lexington after the city installed cameras at the Berry Hill Skate Park last summer. I was concerned the city might be operating even more invasive surveillance programs without oversight and transparency. The response I got from the city and this ongoing lawsuit amplifies my concerns.

We can easily solve this problem by putting a policy in place to guide the future acquisition and use of surveillance technology. We See You Watching Lexington has proposed a local ordinance that would take the first step toward limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies. But the city council needs to take action. So far, it hasn’t shown much interest in addressing the issue. I guess it’s easier to let the city attorneys fight a costly legal battle than actually do the work necessary to establish accountability and transparency.

 

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