The NAACP Columbia chapter supports the city’s adoption of a surveillance technology that gives police real-time access to security cameras.
Chapter president Mary Ratliff said she likes the software because the intelligence it provides will help eliminate unnecessary police stops, especially when black people can be stopped because of their resemblance to a suspect .
Fusus is software that Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones wants to purchase for use in Colombia. The software allows police to view a map of registered surveillance cameras and access their video feeds in real time. Camera owners must opt-in to the system so police can see where their cameras are.
The software features artificial intelligence that police can use to search for objects like a blue hoodie or a red Ford F-150.
Sahil Merchant, chief strategy officer at Fusus, said the software’s artificial intelligence can’t recognize faces or search for people of a specific ethnicity. He said the company doesn’t plan to add facial recognition, in part because many cities that use Fusus ban it in their policies.
Businessmen say Fusus can outlaw racial profiling because the system can provide specific information.
“There are so many times in minority communities that witnesses describe someone vaguely, and now the police are pulling away everyone who looks like them,” Merchant said. “We’re trying to remove all that by making a real individual.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, police and Fusus representatives held open-ended information sessions at two locations where residents could learn about the software and ask questions.
According to these discussions, police access levels are determined by business owners, who can expand, limit or revoke access at any time.
Orlando, Florida, launched Fusus in 2020 and began adding cameras from private businesses to the system two months ago.
Jay Dressing, captain of the Orlando Police Department’s Crime Center and Forensic Division, said Fusus may help correct negative perceptions of and interactions with officers. Because the software provides more detail for police responding to crimes, it is less likely that officers will stop people who are not suspects, he said.
The Police Department will consider public comments at a policy and procedures meeting at the Molly Thomas Bowden Community Policing Centre on Wednesday from 6-8pm.
Merchant said Fusus didn’t add surveillance because it didn’t add surveillance cameras; it just allowed police to use existing cameras more efficiently. Fusus will primarily contain cameras owned by cities and private companies. Some organizations at Columbia University, including Columbia Public Schools and Columbia Mall, said they would opt to join the Fusus system. Businesses say it’s less common for residential cameras to join the system, but individuals and apartment complexes have the option to sign up.
Jones said Fusus would speed up investigations by making it easier for police to collect camera footage, which currently takes police “hours or days”.
“This can be done very quickly in real time, and we can really focus all of these resources on investigating and catching bad guys, rather than collecting camera footage, which is what we’re doing now, which takes hours and hours and hours, Jones said.
Jones said Colombian police have no interest in using the Fusus software for general surveillance. Jones said the final policy is likely to limit Fusus’ use for high-risk events such as crime and monitoring concerts.
Police departments can limit which officers can visit Fusus, Merchant said. Fusus has an auditing feature that records every movement in the system, which Jones said police will use to ensure the correct officers are accessing the system and that they are using it appropriately.
Another concern surrounding Fusus is proving it can deter crime. in October. During the pre-conference working session No. 3, Fusus representative Carlo Capano told the city council that Fusus is focused on delivering the software, not collecting data, and that the best evidence of the software’s effectiveness is the reports from the cities that have adopted it.
Businessmen say none of the cities that have adopted Fusus are getting rid of it. He said the company prefers to demonstrate effectiveness through anecdotal evidence rather than numbers because statistics are “just one piece of a larger policing puzzle.”
Jones said that if Colombia adopted Fusus, police would use its records management system to track the number of crimes that Fusus helped solve.
“I tend to approve it,” Foster said. “I think one of the things I would like to see is what we have in place in terms of policies and procedures for using the system.”