I am not oblivious to the fact that I can be watched and tracked by the powers that be.
I realize that when I check-in on Facebook, drive my car, or use my cellphone, I am practically inviting them to do so.
I resigned myself a long time ago to the idea that even in my bed in the dead of night, somebody could be watching me. So for me the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s 2012 secret mass surveillance experiment conducted on the residents of Compton has less to do with the actual experiment but more to do with the cloud of secrecy around it and the decision not to inform the public so as to not have to deal with complaints or public outrage.
Compton’s taxpayers foot the bill for the Sheriff’s Department in their city and that shouldn’t be forgotten or taken for granted.
It doesn’t matter that department has since nixed the program because it was deemed not useful for the agency’s crime-fighting needs. The fact that they conducted the experiment seemingly without notifying anyone of their plans points to the ongoing misconduct in the troubled law enforcement agency. An agency that took its own extraordinary measures to avoid surveillance by the FBI during a federal investigation into inmate abuse and corruption. Ironic.
Add to that, it is inconceivable to me that the LASD would allow a sergeant to be quoted by any media basically saying, ‘yeah we did it and we didn’t tell them because you know how people get about this kind of stuff.’
The Sheriff’s Department’s Sergeant Douglas Iketani openly acknowledged that his agency hid the experiment to avoid public opposition during an interview with the Bay-Area based Center for Investigative Reporting.
“This system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” he said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so to mitigate those kinds of complaints we basically kept it pretty hush hush.”
Compton’s residents are not guinea pigs for the using and they are not the only Americans who find mass surveillance creepy. Compton was just a city that the Sheriff’s Department felt was the least likely to provide organized resistance to their experiment. If they don’t know, they can’t complain was the attitude. It’s highly unlikely that this type of experiment would have gone unchecked in Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, Malibu, or any of the other more affluent areas under the sheriff’s watch.
Still, it does make you wonder what else the Sheriff’s Department has kept “hush hush” from the public to “mitigate complaints.”
The discussions around this experiment began in 2011 under disgraced Lee Baca and Los Angeles County assistant district attorney and former Compton mayor Eric Perrodin’s watch. While there maybe nothing that can be done to either of them and it’s highly doubtful they’d even come forth to explain their roles in the experiment, for those opposed to secret or not so secret mass surveillance of the public, they should take their concerns to the seven men running to replace Baca as sheriff. Of those seven, at least three—Baca’s former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and two Assistant Sheriff’s Todd Rogers and Jim Hellmold, more than likely knew about the experimentation and said nothing.
Given the numerous scandals and controversies plaguing the Sheriff’s Department right now and the loud call for reform within the institution, the candidates running for sheriff need to confirm for the public what their position is on mass surveillance, experiments involving mass surveillance, as well as what would be their policy regarding public notification of these types of experiments in the future.
Public outrage and opposition comes with the job and the Sheriff’s Department knows that. It’s experiments like this that justifiably intensify and amplify that outrage. Instead of trying to avoid it, they need to just deal with it.
Jasmyne A. Cannick is a native of Los Angeles and writes about the intersection of race, class, and politics. She can be found online at jasmyneonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.