A City’s Journey to Smart Solutions: A Bottoms-Up Approach to Balancing Privacy, Security and Public Safety

This article is the fifth in a series that follows the City of Oakland’s journey to balance privacy and security in the aftermath of a public safety crisis – from the formation of the first citizen-led privacy commission in the nation that was created in response to planned expansion of surveillance throughout the city, to a bottoms-up, citizen-led initiative from one district to deploy smart surveillance technology throughout all districts of the city. Read the first installment here, the second installment here, the third installment here, and the fourth installment here.

As the article preceding this Oakland series quoted The Dark Knight, this article will wrap up the series with another: “The night is darkest before the dawn…I promise you, the dawn is coming.” These words vowed by the character Harvey Dent/Two-Face were meant to assure citizens of the crime-ridden city of Gotham. But when will the dawn come for Oakland, a city in the midst of a long-lasting public-safety crisis?

The drones that took flight in Oakland in March 2022 came from a community left reeling in the aftermath of a dual pandemic of COVID-19 and anti-Asian hate, amid a tsunami of violent crimes that tore through all districts of the city. While crimes rose throughout the nation during the pandemic, Oakland scores No. 1 as the most dangerous on a crime index with a scale of 1 to 100. Oakland residents have a 1 in 77 chance of being a victim of violent crime – a rate that is almost three times higher compared to the state of California with a rate of 1 in 227.[1]

It was citizens from Oakland Chinatown who made the surveillance technology possible. A private donation of $80K enabled the launch of the drone program with the Oakland Police Department (OPD), after the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) was finally approved by the Privacy Advisory Commission (PAC) and City Council, although the source of the donated funds for the drones is under an open and ongoing investigation with the City of Oakland. It was the latest effort by the residents of Oakland Chinatown in response to the rise in violent crimes and targeted hate-crime attacks against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI)….