FREMONT CITY COUNCIL//ANALYSIS | If there ever was an issue that screamed potential Alameda County grand jury investigation, it's Fremont’s scheme to use money set aside for housing the poor to purchase 20 surveillance cameras effectively to keep an eye on how poor they remain.
While other cities in Alameda County feed off federal Homeland Security dollars to fund their burgeoning surveillance networks, Fremont is looking to a whole different and unrelated pot, essentially repurposing funding from a doomed Federal Housing Authority project to placate a desire among its law enforcement officials to fund a wish list for more cameras on city streets. In fact, the Fremont police department and city bumbled the request from the start by being uncommonly honest with the purpose of the additional eyes in the sky.
The cameras were destined to cover “low to moderate-income areas” in Fremont, the city said. Did the use of that phrase in relation to the cameras unwittingly reveal the police department's bias toward the people in these areas being the root of the crime problem? Granted, those living in Fremont fitting the description of poor by federal standards is somewhat low, around 6-7 percent. But, poor is poor and cameras for the purpose of tamping down crime, which the Police Chief Richard Lucero, himself, said last week does nothing to deter criminals, is insulting to the community. Keep in mind, Fremont is the most diverse city in the state with a unique minority majority of residents of Asian and South Asian descent.
“This is a very creative use of funding, but for us not to be this creative with the social service providers and providing that money for them,” said Fremont Councilmember Anu Natarajan. Councilmember Vinnie Bacon also forcefully expressed this concern, as did, others.
But, like their council colleagues in other East Bay cities, the Fremont City Council did not express qualms with the cameras, in general, nor did they appear interested in other pertinent questions such as how the cameras will be utilized, who will monitor them and, most importantly, who long will the data be retained.
East Bay public officials also appear unable to link recent federal government wrongdoing with wiretapping, cell phone data and personal Web site histories with the tightening grip of surveillance cameras in Oakland and nearly every other Alameda County city. “With the federal government checking our email, checking our telephone conversations, at least, at the local level, I would expect our locally-elected representatives to protect what little privacy we have left,” said Fremont resident Bill Spicer.
If local government is deaf to what is going on in Washington, they are also immune to what really causes crime. Newark resident and local activist John Henneberry understands the link between having nothing to lose and breaking the law. “The driving force behind crime worldwide is desperation,” he told the council last week. “Poverty causes desperation and, in turn, desperation causes crime.”
The Alameda County grand jury is designed to watch over and investigate local government entities. If Fremont thinks it can get away with enhancing their surveillance power with money set aside for the poor, one should ask on what other occasions have they pulled money from disparate pots to pay for other items on their wish lists?