Lexington Mayoral Candidates on Surveillance: Bastin Acknowledges Tech Abuse Is Dangerous; Gorton Calls for Bigger Conversation

Lexington will choose a new mayor on Nov. 6. Former vice-mayor Linda Gorton squares off against former police chief Ronnie Bastin. So where do the two candidates stand on surveillance?

Both Bastin and Gorton responded to questions posed by We See You Watching Lexington, a grassroots organization committed to bringing oversight and transparency to surveillance programs in Lexington.

Bastin

Having decisively outgained Gorton in the fundraising battle, Bastin’s campaign is focusing heavily on public safety. The opioid crisis and school safety were the issues he repeatedly hammers on in his messaging to the voters. In an early campaign commercial, Bastin stated that he planned to “modernize crimefighting in Lexington.” With so many alarming modern trends in crimefighting, the former police chief was asked to describe, with specificity what modernized crimefighting would look like under his leadership.

“We must prevent crime before it happens, by taking a holistic, community-based approach. This is what it means to modernize crimefighting.”

From that description, one cannot be certain exactly how that differs from current policing in Lexington, however, according to his website, some of the more notable parts of Bastin’s plan include increasing the police force by an additional 40 officers over the next four years and allocating more resources to solve violent crimes, especially homicides. Bastin’s plan also mentions an increase in the availability of Naloxone, a life-saving overdose antidote and the institution of the city’s first Felon Job Fair, to help reduce the level of recidivism in Lexington’s criminal justice system.

With regard to Lexington’s surveillance issues, Bastin was asked if he supported the use of Facial Recognition Software, Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs), Drones, Cell Site Simulators (Stingrays) and other forms of invasive surveillance technology by local police.

“I believe in the privacy rights of each citizen—unless it is necessary for the investigation or prosecution of a crime and in accordance with Fourth Amendment, and state and local laws. As our society changes, so will the need for technology. So I am unable to say definitively if I am for or against any of these technologies outright. For example, a drone could be used to monitor traffic patterns during gridlock; or help search for a missing hiker in Red River Gorge. Technology in and of itself is not dangerous. Misuse of technology is what poses the danger.”

Bastin went on to say that he would be willing to listen to any proposal that would promote accountability and oversight for surveillance technology usage in Lexington.

“I would listen to the needs and desires of the community on this issue. If our citizens and council wanted such an ordinance, and it fell within the guidelines of federal and state law, I would support it.”

We See You Watching Lexington proposed such an ordinance to the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council and the current mayor over a year ago, however, no action has been taken. Additionally, when presented with open records requests regarding current surveillance technologies employed by Lexington police, the city opted to sue We See You Watching Lexington Director, Mike Maharrey in order to keep the information concealed from the public. Litigation is ongoing.

Gorton

Former vice-mayor Linda Gorton’s campaign focused on safety and the opioid crisis as well, but also anchors heavily on job growth, social issues, growing the economy, and protecting agriculture by respecting the Urban Service Boundary. Details about her vision for Lexington can be found HERE.

Gorton’s campaign did not respond directly to most of the surveillance-related questions submitted to it, however, Gorton did reply to an inquiry about the surveillance issue via Facebook Messenger.

“I think we need a balance,” Gorton said. “I believe in a person’s right to have cameras on their private property as well as businesses that need to have surveillance for security reasons. I don’t believe our community needs cameras in every public place like some bigger cities or some countries that surveil their people everywhere.”

She went on to say:

“I know there are parks where there’s been major crime activity, so the idea with cameras there is as a deterrent to criminal activity. Discussions with neighbors and park users should take place before others are installed. This requires a bigger conversation.”

It’s interesting to hear the former vice-mayor say community approval would be important to her as mayor whenever new surveillance devices are introduced.

Department of Public Safety administrative officer Dean Marcum cautioned the LFUCG Council that community support would be vital before the installing the $30,000 spypole experiment at Berry Hill Park, located in Lexington’s Buckhorn neighborhood.

“A big thing, in my opinion, is having neighborhood meetings and getting community buy-in. That’s critical in my view. We want the community on board with these. I think that’s a big part of it,” Marcum told the Council.

However, the invasive, four camera system was installed quickly and quietly in the park, with no prior notification, discussion or input from residents. More concerning is the fact that Lexington operates these cameras with virtually no policies in place that ensure the kind of oversight and accountability that would protect residents from potential abuse.

Councilmember Fred Brown (Dist. 8) spearheaded the effort to place surveillance cameras in Lexington parks, beginning with the Berry Hill pilot project in June of 2017. It passed the Council in January of the same year by a 9-3 vote. Steve Kay, Kathy Plomin, Sasha Love Higgins, James Brown, Jake Gibbs, Jennifer Scutchfield, Susan Lamb, Richard Moloney and Amanda Mays Bledsoe voted yes.

Concerned about privacy and unchecked surveillance in our community, Angela Evans, Bill Farmer and Jennifer Mossotti voted no.

The takeaway here is that Lexington has two candidates that are, at the very least, willing to have a conversation about surveillance accountability and oversight. As surveillance technologies advance and spread, it is critical that this desperately needed conversation take place before far more invasive devices are introduced into our community by law enforcement. Under Jim Gray’s administration, the LFUCG Council has been unwilling to have a discussion, much less entertain enacting the ordinance that has been placed before them.

We See You Watching Lexington is encouraged that these two candidates acknowledge a need for surveillance oversight in our city. The organization will continue to be optimistic that Lexington can achieve the kind of privacy protections that a modern city deserves under the leadership of this next mayor.

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