Birmingham surveillance software program comes under fire

New surveillance system for B'ham

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council approved spending $1 million dollars over five years for a new surveillance software program. The system will provide quick up-to-the-minute information for Birmingham Police and Fire.

Earlier, various groups came out against the Motorola software program because it originally included a facial recognition program. Some feel it unfairly targets people of color. Mayor Randall Woodfin and members of the council agreed to pull that program, but people still spoke out against spending the money.

The program is called the Command Aware software. It will tie in cameras stationed around the city, including ShotSpotter, Alabama Power cameras and body cameras.

“This way, the command staff at Birmingham Fire, Birmingham Emergency Communications and Police can look to see what is going on as it occurs,” Hunter Williams, Birmingham Public Safety Committee Chairman, said.

Williams believes the city needs a system to protect people, especially at large events such as the Magic City Classic and the World Games. There were those who spoke at council opposed to the surveillance system, saying the money could be better spent.

“The powers that be behind the scenes push for more arrests, imprisonment and surveillance. That is not the answer. It will not reduce crime,” Walter Umrani with the Conflict Resolution Ten Thousand Initiative said.

Umrani said the money should be spent on social programs, such as community policing.

The council listened to the earlier strong objections to including facial recognition into the system, but even supporters like Williams admitted that system was faulty and could be racially biased.

“We understand the concern of big brother. We understand the concerns of a hyper police state, and we don’t want that,” Williams said.

A spokesman for Woodfin said it’s written into the contract not to include facial recognition. The program can’t be added unless the city changes the contract. Williams said the new software program could be up and running in six months. Plans call for running the video into the real time crime center once that is completed.

Copyright 2020 WBRC. All rights reserved.