For the second time in 14 years, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis vetoed a city council bill.
The vetoed bill was passed 5-4 by West Lafayette City Council Monday night and would have banned city government employees, including police, from using facial recognition surveillance technology.
“I will not support nor sign legislation that supports banning facial recognition technology in this community,” said Dennis, a former Lafayette police officer.
Dennis made the declaration he was vetoing the bill then signed his declaratory statement instead of the bill, the two actions required to veto a bill in West Lafayette city government.
“The city council and I have always been in step with each other,” Dennis said in a Tuesday phone call, “but this cut very close to the bone for me.”
Police use this technology to find leads on cases, and they don’t “go out and find the guy” they see in the picture, he said. This technology would be a tool to keep the community safe and prevent crime.
West Lafayette police Lt. Jon Eager said most local police don’t actually have the technology on hand, but rather go to “other sources” to request it for assistance. Police actually use it “few and far between.”
“We’ve sought it only a few times,” he said in a Tuesday phone call.
The bill has been on the council’s table and surrounded in contention since September. This bill needed two separate votes to pass. It got the same vote count, 5-4, Monday night that it got on its first reading the bill in early October. Even then, Dennis made it clear he intended to veto the bill if it passed after its second reading.
West Lafayette Chief of Police Troy Harris was adamant at last night’s meeting that the technology is necessary to curb crime rates.
“In no time in our history has violent crime been so high,” Harris said, “and now we are going to take away an important resource available to us.”
Those supporting the ban were less optimistic about its potential.
Council member David Sanders, the sponsor of the bill, said the ban aimed to remove a technology that could possibly be used to target minorities. Sanders used the example of Black Lives Matter protesters harassed by law enforcement using facial recognition which made national media over the summer.
Sanders also added that facial recognition technology was particularly inaccurate at identifying people of color.
“There are actually lawsuits involving African Americans who have been misidentified through this facial recognition surveillance technology and had to spend time in jail,” he said.
Some West Lafayette citizens attended the meeting to share their thoughts in favor of the bill.
“We need to make sure that this technology is not going to hurt people in our community,” a citizen who said his name is Frank said.
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