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Watch now: ACLU president confronts Bloomington council on license plate cameras | Politics

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Carol Koos, president of the ACLU of Illinois Central Illinois Chapter, speaks during the Monday Bloomington City Council meeting.

BLOOMINGTON — A two-year contract with Flock Safety to purchase and install 10 automatic license plate readers in Bloomington is tabled to the first week of February.

The Bloomington City Council in a 6-2 vote on Monday pushed off a decision to enter a $59,000 contract with the Atlanta, Georgia-based company for the cameras after several members of the public criticized the technology, raising concerns of privacy.

Ward 3 alderwoman Sheila Montney and Ward 5 alderman Nick Becker voted against tabling the contract. Ward 1 alderman Jamie Mathy was serving as mayor pro temp in Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe’s absence. 

The Central Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois earlier in the day urged the city to pull out of the agreement with Flock Safety.

The ACLU in a statement Monday called the technology “invasive” and stated the city needs to share more information with the community before contracting the company.

“Beyond these immediate issues, the ALPR technology poses a risk to civil liberties and privacy, and also, can become a tool to surveil and monitor Black and brown communities,” the ACLU said in a statement. “These are the very communities that already suffer from significant over-policing, whether in Bloomington or other communities across the country.”

The Bloomington City Council will consider the two-year contract with Flock Safety at its Feb. 8 meeting. The cost of the first year of the contract is $31,500, and the second year is $27,500.

Documents prepared ahead of the city council meeting indicate the security cameras would help the Bloomington Police Department in “enhancing public safety in areas impacted by violent crimes and near locations of frequent vehicle crashes.”

If approved, 10 automatic license plate readers would be installed in “areas of the city impacted by violent crime in 2021.” The cameras are pole-mounted and solar-powered, and will connect to a ALPR cloud system.

Eight police departments and sheriff offices in Illinois have agreed to share ALPR data with Bloomington: West Peoria, Springfield, Champaign, Rantoul, Channahon, and Pekin police departments, and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office.

The documents do not include locations of the proposed cameras. The Pantagraph has filed a Freedom Information Act request seeking the information. 

Carol Koos, president of the ACLU of Illinois Central Illinois Chapter during the Monday council meeting said: “Primarily, more information needs to be shared with the community before this agreement is considered for approval. Communication with citizens prior to approval will increase sense of trust in police and city government.”

Said Olivia Butts, who is a member of the leadership team of Black Lives Matter of Bloomington-Normal: “I think most folks would agree that if the Bloomington community is to undergo more surveillance, then there should be some sort of public town hall or public input, at the very least some discussion among council people about how this will affect policing and how this will affect the community.”

Resident Matthew Toczko, of Bloomington, questioned the timing.  

“How dare you try to sneak this by as a consent agenda item with zero public discussion or debate and no real chance for the people of Bloomington to say no to it. This kind of public surveillance bullshit is exactly the kind of thing that demands transparent discourse and a democratic process before implementation in a purportedly free society if it is implemented at all,” he said.

The Bloomington Police Department also intends to speak with the Public Safety and Community Relations Board later in January about ALPRs and the city’s plan for their use.

Bloomington currently has a network of security cameras installed in public areas throughout the city, which have helped solve crimes. The use of such cameras has raised local questions and concerns regarding privacy.

Firefighters fight a large barn fire at a firewood business in southwest Bloomington.

David Proeber

The ACLU has stated that, if the city moves forward with the contract, the the police department should create a specific privacy policy regulating the use of the technology, which should be shared with the public. The organization also stated the BPD should publicly share where the APLR cameras are installed and how the decision on where to place them was made.

Contact Sierra Henry at 309-820-3234. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_sierrahenry.