Commentary: DPAC Will Get Tested Tonight

Police oversight in Davis is about to receive its first real test.  Police oversight already has a fairly interesting history in Davis.  Back in 2005, Davis went through a series of high profile police complaints which led the Human Relations Commission to recommend a civilian review board.

This proved to be well ahead of its time, and the council settled for a compromise police ombudsman position, where a professional but independently contracted investigator looked into complaints against the police department.

The political rancor was elevated, however, which led in June 2006 to the police chief resigning and the city council voting 4-1 to abolish the Human Relations Commission.

Over time, the matter settled down until we reach 2017 and the Picnic Day incident.  A few things happened about the same time.  First, the police auditor (renamed from ombudsman) stepped down after 11 years on the job.  Second, the Picnic Day incident shone light on the police chief, the handling of investigations, and the handling of a confrontation by the police themselves.

The council, after considerable community discussion and outreach, created a civilian review board that was ironically very similar in structure to the proposal by the Human Relations Commission from 2006 and combined that with the hiring of a new Independent Police Auditor position (IPA).  The Davis Police Accountability Commission (DPAC) has been in place since last year and has mostly operated without incident.

The IPA has issued some reports already, with some interesting findings, but there has been little of controversy that has arisen—at least so far.

That may change this week.

As we noted in Sunday’s column, the Davis Police Chief back in December pushed for the council to approve the purchase of cameras at key points in the city.  The council at that time approved the idea in concept, but sent it back to the DPAC for evaluation and help in drafting an appropriate use policy.

But it turns out that the DPAC voted the system down, on an 8-0 vote, as they moved: “That the City move forward with portable remote cameras with the highest resolution/quality possible but not with fixed cameras or license plate readers (with fixed cameras).”

The DPAC expressed their concerns at the meeting.

From the staff report notes: “While they have concerns about cameras, they realize that the Police Department needs some tools. With fixed cameras, the Commission is concerned about the overall policy use and the cost/benefit. The Commission is highly opposed to License Plate Readers (with fixed cameras). The Commission would like a clear use policy for the portable remote cameras.”

To me there are some key problems with this whole thing.

First, as I noted on Sunday, the police chief seems to want to hide the fact that the DPAC opposed the fixed cameras and license plate readers.  As I noted before, the staff report mentions that DPAC looked into the issue, but only on the final page of a 25-page report, an attachment, in the first very last line, does it make clear that the DPAC opposed it.  That’s troubling to say the least.

Second, and I didn’t raise this point strongly enough on Sunday, the staff report by the chief has cites no documentation, no studies, no authority to suggest that installing these cameras will make any difference.

He wants council to spend money on this stuff, but he gives them no reason to believe that the installation of cameras will reduce crime or even catch more potential criminals in the act.

Third, it fails to analyze drawbacks to the policy.  The ACLU, for instance, has generally opposed such camera systems, but there is no mention of this or any other concerns.  Nor does the chief, who wrote the staff report, assess the concerns that the DPAC had—that would have required him to acknowledge that they had those concerns.

The bottom line is that the staff report here really is inadequate.  It fails to make the case for why we need these camera systems or to discuss ways to mitigate concerns.

And, yes, I remain concerned that we are giving up a lot of privacy in public areas to big brother government without a huge increase in safety.

I believe there are legitimate reasons for the typical member of the public to be concerned.  There are those who will argue that law abiding citizens have nothing to fear.  But we know from recent history that is not the case—look no further than partial and misread evidence in cases like Brandon Mayfield and the Central Park 5 to know the dangers of misused evidence and eyewitness misidentification.

Misidentification is a huge problem here.  Even with high resolution cameras, angles and lighting are going to play a huge role.  Facial recognition software remains problematic.  Misidentification of someone could potentially put an innocent person into the legal system and then, who knows.

Circumstantial evidence—some of these cameras are going to be at the entrance to town—may show someone coming and leaving but we don’t know what happens in between.  That could potentially draw suspicion to people who have done nothing wrong.

There is also the potential for evidence to be misconstrued.  The camera may only suggest, it may not conclusively show something.

Furthermore, the problems of quality, lighting and angles could limit the overall utility of the camera.

All of those are, of course, assuming only good faith actors.  But it may be that cameras will be misused by public officials.  It is not clear that the auditing system is sufficient to safeguard against abuse.  A big problem is that we will not know what we don’t know.  That gives someone with nefarious intentions an opportunity to take advantage.

Is that likely to occur?  No.  But it does happen.

This will be an interesting test.  The council created the DPAC to oversee the police department, they specifically asked the DPAC to weigh in on this—will they listen to the DPAC when perhaps the DPAC’s recommendations are inconvenient?

Time to find out how effective the DPAC can be.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. Keith Olsen

    David, you’re really stretching looking for reasons not to have the cameras.  They will help with  downtown safety and are great tools that can be used to catch perps.  The only real reason I can see not to install them would be the cost.

    1. David Greenwald

      What evidence is that it will help catch perpetrators? Have you watched some of the video footage that comes into court? It’s hit and miss and at best it can be used to bolster a case, rarely do you catch someone based on the video footage.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Ever heard of the Boston Marathon bombers?

        Geez, watch some of the documentary crime shows on TV sometime.  Camera footage is used all of the time to help authorities solve the crime.

        1. David Greenwald

          Ever hear of Richard Jewell – one of the key pieces of evidence that wrongly led them to him was the video showing him running away from the scene after the bombing.

        2. Keith Olsen

          So we shouldn’t have surveillance cameras, DNA evidence, eyewitnesses, forensics and a whole slew of other things used to catch criminals because sometimes someone gets wrongly accused?

          1. David Greenwald

            I think you’re conflating issues here.

            DNA evidence I have yet to see get it wrong.

            Eyewitness identification is a problem that they have passed legislation to address some of the problems with.

            Forsensic is a broad category, but there are a host of forensic techniques that have been thrown out because they are unreliable.

            So yes – in a lot of cases, we have addressed several of those that are problematic.

            We also do not allow blanket DNA collection which is probably what I would consider surveillance cameras closest to.

          2. David Greenwald

            I also find it interesting that you argued the other day if the camera caught just one “perp” but did not allow for the converse to be true. I found that telling.

        3. Keith Olsen

          DNA evidence I have yet to see get it wrong.

          Well according to OJ’s lawyers they got it wrong.

          I also find it interesting that you argued the other day if the camera caught just one “perp” but did not allow for the converse to be true. I found that telling.

          Like I stated the other day, “So if you have 100 instances of a crime being detected by cameras where it led to the arrest of the perp or the saving of an abducted child we shouldn’t use them because of that one case where someone might be misidentified?”


          1. David Greenwald

            From today’s article: “a 2016 Associated Press review that found more than 325 instances between 2013 and 2015 alone “in which law enforcement officers who misused databases were fired, suspended, or resigned, and more than 250 instances of reprimands or lesser discipline related to such misuse.””

            That’s just the times they got caught.

    2. Robert Canning

      The use of stationary fixed cameras has little impact on crime – particularly the way that staff have outlined their use. Cameras in small enclosed spaces (read parking garages) and parking lots have had some success. They may (the operative word is “may”) have some deterrence value by their mere presence (sort of like putting radar signs on streets). But part of the problem with this proposal is that 1) the staff report gives no background suggesting that the fixed cameras at on/off ramps will reduce crime; 2) there is no plan included for evaluation of the cameras if they are put in place; and 3) the city commission that is charged with looking into these things has said they do not agree with the plan.

      There is research from the UK and some U.S. locales that suggest these cameras do little to reduce crime. One city, I believe it was Omaha, got rid of them. A research brief from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee (” Is There Empirical Evidence that Surveillance Cameras Reduce Crime?” from 2016) notes that there is little direct evidence for the crime reduction value of these cameras.

      I believe that before the CC approves a camera plan, it should also require the police department to detail how they will evaluate the program, e.g. before/after statistics, and the like.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Surveillance cameras have become a vital part of crime fighting in the last few decades. In nearly seven out of 10 murders, surveillance footage is used to help solve the crime. Fortunately for law enforcement, criminals don’t seem to be getting much smarter, even as the technology to catch them is. The world is becoming more and more surveilled each day thanks to the falling costs of cameras, and crimes are routinely being solved thanks to all forms of surveillance footage. 

        1. Robert Canning

          That’s a very nice article but do you know if these cameras were private or owned by the municipality? Many surveillance cameras are owned by businesses. In the UK cameras on trains and in stations have helped solve crimes – but the type of crime and location of the cameras matter.

          Is there any evidence that the two portable cameras that Davis has have been useful in thwarting and preventing crime? The staff report asserts that having cameras at entrances and exits to town will help solve crime. Where’s the evidence? How do we know? If the cameras are approved, the police need a plan to evaluate them so that we aren’t just throwing away public funds on ineffective tools.

        2. Robert Canning

          Your quote is a bunch of assertions without much context. For instance, my understanding is that the clearance rate for murder is only 61% according to the FBI’s UCR statistics for 2017 ( The clearance rate for property crimes (most of what happens in Davis) is less than 20%. Does the police department know if they will be able to improve on that figure with fixed cameras at on/off ramps?

        3. Keith Olsen

          That’s a very nice article but do you know if these cameras were private or owned by the municipality? Many surveillance cameras are owned by businesses. 

          So are you okay with the use of camera footage used to solve crimes from individuals or businesses?  What’s the difference then if public camera footage is used?


        4. Keith Olsen

          Is there any evidence that the two portable cameras that Davis has have been useful in thwarting and preventing crime? 

          I thought those cameras were mounted on parking control vehicles pointed down strictly for reading license plates.  I’m not surprised they didn’t film any crimes, that’s not what they were used for.

  2. Bill Marshall

    The City has used both mobile and fixed cameras with license plate recognition for many years… former for travel study analysis (Richards/First corridor, to determine how many out of area cars were using it) and parking enforcement, particularly downtown; latter for red-light violation enforcement… which actually did deter ‘crime’.

    [sidebar, the company who was the vendor and operator of the system ended the contract (due to lack of violations over time, reducing the ticket revenue stream), abandoned the system, but because the equipment (and signage) remained, the significant reduction in violations, continued… some opined that if the City had added empty coffee cans, made to look like cameras, accompanied by signs, would be effective at even more intersections.]

    The cameras, mobile or stationary  are tools… like a hammer, which is perfect for a carpenter, dangerous in the hands of a criminal (seem to recall a doctor brutally attacked at the UC Med Center).  It isn’t about the tool, it’s about the person(s) using the tool.

    The discussion should, IMHO, be about the users of the tool, and not the tool itself.  The article tries to address that, to an extent, but seems to assume the users are mal-intentioned.


    1. David Greenwald

      “It isn’t about the tool, it’s about the person(s) using the tool.”

      That’s an overstatement. The tools allow the government to monitor the movements and actions not just of lawbreakers but also law abiding citizens. You are correct that those tools can be misused, but the tools allow the government to do things that they otherwise could not.

    2. Robert Canning

      Bill, staff report says they have used two mobile camera units. Does the city have fixed cameras they use? What has been the impact on crime in the areas where the mobile cameras have been placed?

      Re. license plate readers, do we know how often they have misidentified a car, i.e. what’s their error rate? I’ve never heard someone discuss that but it seems like it is important information to know.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Does the city have fixed cameras they use?

        They have… as I recall, 5 red-light violation fixed cameras… not sure if any are still in use… see my earlier comment.  They were in place for at least ~ 5 years… had license plate recognition.

        They were indeed effective in reducing red-light violations at the intersections they were used at.

        Caltrans does same @ toll booths.

        As to error rate… not my area of expertise… contact FasTrak… and ask how many tolls were reversed, due to recognition errors.  I believe the error rate is low, as to LP#’s… and those are with moving vehicles, as opposed to static readings.  David’s point as to facial recognition… that’s another matter, entirely… requires interpretation beyond LP# recognition.

        Also, re: Picnic Day incident, David (and others) seem to accept private, car mounted camera footage, with no chain of custody of those “records”… could easily have been altered.  Am assuming the cameras proposed would have calibration and chain of custody protections.

        Best I can do in answering your (apparently biased) questions.  Have given you straight responses…

        To be clear… I am not an advocate for use, nor am I concerned about the use. Except as to cost, and priorities for spending municipal funds…

        1. Robert Canning

          Re. redlight cameras, here is an interesting article from Scientific American about a “natural” experiment in Houston where by referendum voters ended the redlight camera program. Here are their conclusions:
          “When the Houston cameras were removed, angle accidents increased by 26 percent. However, all other types of accidents decreased by 18 percent. Approximately one-third of all Houston intersection accidents are angle accidents. This suggests that the program’s drawbacks canceled out its benefits…Our study showed no evidence that cameras reduce the total number of accidents. We estimate that total accidents are reduced by a statistically insignificant 3 percent after the cameras are turned off…Likewise, there’s no evidence that the camera program reduced the number of traffic-related injuries or the likelihood of incurring an incapacitating injury.”
          I have also read (can’t find it at the moment) that increasing the yellow timing can reduce red light running and thus reduce accidents.

        2. Bill Marshall

          As to red light violation info you provided, two comments:

          A one city data point.  And doesn’t measure ‘close calls’, near misses, panic stops, etc. Collisions avoided by quick smart action by ‘the other driver’.

          There are very few “accidents”… they are generally “crashes”, or “collisions”… stupids, willful violations, DUI’s (no ‘accident’ that they were under the influence), etc.  True ‘accidents’ are few and far between.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Got cut off when the ‘shot clock was @ 3 minutes…

          Add to my contributing factors to red-light violations… ‘distracted driving’ (still, not an “accident”… a choice)

          Adding time to a yellow cycle has not been demonstrated to reduce collisions, crashes… there is evidence to the contrary, where it increases mishaps… what has been shown to be effective is creating an “all red” phase (usually 1 – 2 seconds, depending on road width)… tends to cut out the drivers aggressively trying to ‘beat the light’, ‘going thru on “orange”‘…

          But then again, you may know best… I only was educated (and observed), practiced and followed the literature on traffic engineering for 35+ years.  What do I know?  Feel free to disregard my creds… am sure yours are stronger, as you read Scientific American.

  3. Robert Canning

    Seems like when the police ask for more technology, they get it without much reservation (save rejection of MRAP). I don’t recall any of these new surveillance technologies having evaluations built into the proposal. This is bad public policy and oversight. Why is it we require all sorts of evidence before new treatments for diseases are implemented but when surveillance technologies are put forth as needed for “public safety” we roll over and say “Sure, go ahead.” The council appointed a police advisory commission to help with these issues. They should listen to their advice.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Why is it we require all sorts of evidence before new treatments for diseases are implemented but when surveillance technologies are put forth as needed for “public safety” we roll over and say “Sure, go ahead.”

      Well, as to diseases, if something goes wrong, there is no recourse for the patient.  In law enforcement, there are recourses… challenging the evidence, arguing the merits of the evidence, appeals, etc.  Not so true in the outcome of a patient.  You have posited an oranges and orangutans question…

      BTW, am not fond of the “Patriots Act”, enacted under the guise of personal and national security/safety.

          1. David Greenwald

            All tools need to be evaluated for effectiveness and also downsides in loss of privacy. One thing that disturbs me here is that the staff report has absolutely no evidence-based research.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Tell that to people who end up in prison wrongly convicted for decades

          And just how many of those were wrongly convicted due to stationary cameras (government owned) that had license plate recognition?  You ask for documentation, so I do the same.  Works both ways.

          Would you also ban private stationary cameras for the same reason?  Or at least advocate that they never be used as ‘evidence’?

  4. Alan Miller

    Commentary: DPAC Will Get Tested Tonight

    I thought the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee was getting tested for Coronavirus tonight.  I was checking to see if those who were at meetings as members of the public needed to be tested as well.

    I’m OUT!

    1. Matt Williams

      I had the same problem with the headline as Alan had.  Last time I checked DPAC is the acronym for the Downtown Plan Advisory Committee.  Looking at the City website for the Police Accountability Commission (see HERE), never once is it referred to with the lead in word “Davis” so the acronym PAC would seem to apply.

      Of course it is possible that the other DPAC is really the DDPAC.  It’s a puzzlement.

        1. Matt Williams

          You may want to double check that (see Council Resolution), which says,

          RESOLUTION NO.18-149, SERIES2018


          WHEREAS, the City Council relies on Boards and Commissions to provide advice and information on subjects within the Commission’s scope; and

          WHEREAS, the Davis Police Department, in its 2017-2019 Strategic Plan has an objective to provide transparency and information to the public in a timely, efficient, and respectful manner and has a task committed to determining how to best implement the “21st Century Policing” plan.; and

          WHEREAS, the purpose of the City of Davis Police oversight system is to increase transparency concerning policing practices and policies, build police accountability to the community and provide for ongoing correction and quality improvement; and

          WHEREAS, the implementation of a community outreach plan that will inform the community about police oversight and receiving input from all members of the community about concerns and/or complaints they have concerning policing is an important part of an oversight system.

          NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of Davis does hereby create a Police Accountability Commission to achieve the following:

          1. PURPOSE The key role of the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) is to provide community-based accountability via a variety of interactions with members of the public, the Independent Police Auditor, the Davis Police Department, and others. The PAC, along with the Independent Police Auditor, is a critical means to create more accountability and transparency in policing.  As an advisory body of the Davis City Council, the commission is established and guided by the following documents: a. Commission Handbook; and b. Commission Policy Guidelines

  5. John Hobbs

    Cops are funny. At least twice in the last couple of years I have been told by police that taking photographs of them in plain sight from a public space was illegal. I got their badge numbers and names, continued photographing and wrapped in that pesky constitution told the cops to fork off. I would rather see live web cameras given to local businesses and residents and uploaded to the cloud. No one, including the blue-stripe gang is entitled to privacy in a public place.

    1. Alan Miller

      No one, including the blue-stripe gang is entitled to privacy in a public place.

      I don’t usually agree with you on cop issues, JH, but on this I do.  Totally pisses me off when cops claim you can’t photograph them, or they knock a camera away, or take a camera.

      I once had a cop take my camera for photographing a scene he was working — I didn’t care about the camera, but I cared about the hundreds of pictures I had on there that I was pretty sure were gonna get deleted.  Luckily, I talked to someone who, it turned out, knew the cop and talked him in to giving it back before he left the scene.

  6. Sharla Cheney

    Do we not have any tool to battle against people driving into town to rip laptops out of the hands of students in coffee shops, steal catalytic converters, car jack students parking their cars, etc, and then racing out of town?  Wouldn’t cameras help with investigations in solving these crimes?

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for