Meeting Citizens’ Needs

July 2, 2009

I re-learned some very important things at tonight’s Denver Democrats House District 5 (HD5) meeting. Citizens want an open government- they don’t just want to know what decisions are made, but they also want to see the process in action. They need to know who the decision-makers are. And, they want access to those decision-makers. Public hearings can’t continue to be held only during working hours; that prevents working citizens from participating. Most importantly, citizens want elected officials who have solutions and have the ability to make those solutions happen.

I’m pleased that my experience in the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is leading to the realization of all of those citizen needs. Through being responsive to constituents’ inquiries and complaints we have been able to develop web-based systems (some things are still under development) that provide constituents with efficient public record filing and searching tools. Records can be filed in minutes and retrieved in real-time.

Business registration and commercial lien recording are pretty small functions of state government, but they do serve important roles in commerce. Most importantly, those are the duties assigned to the Division I work in, so we administer those duties as efficiently as possible.

Our next endeavor is to bring our constituents into our processes, into the creation of our policies, and into state government. We’re doing what democracy is meant to be. We’ve provided extraordinary constituent support for many years, but many of these efforts to further involve citizens should have been undertaken much earlier. We’re not perfect, so we’re getting underway as quickly as possible. Also, new web tools (referred to as Web 2.0 or Gov 2.0) have greatly improved our ability to involve constituents.

As an example, earlier today, we launched an informal administrative rules review effort using a Google Group to obtain feedback on the proposed rules. Using the group allows constituents to view and edit the rules and share comments with other reviewers. Participation is available to constituents who are invited to join the group or who request to join the group. That limitation is in place so that we can obtain contact information for future efforts to collaborate with the public. It shouldn’t be, but this is a unique venture, at least in the Secretary of State’s Office, into giving citizens visible, hands-on opportunities to shape government policy.

This experience can be applied to nearly every government endeavor. During today’s HD5 meeting we talked about two substantial issues- improvements to and potential re-routing of I-70; and needle exchange services, specifically the Underground Syringe Exchange of Denver (USED). (I would have hesitated to bring up the illegally operated USED, but they already have a website and people need to know about that service, not that posting here will greatly spread the word until my readership expands beyond immediate family members.)

Government officials are responsible for both proposing solutions and for obtaining public feedback on those proposals. The public is responsible for utilizing those opportunities. Together, the collective wisdom and fortitude can achieve any needed objective.

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Denver Police Promote Use of Surveillance Cameras

June 24, 2009

The Westword recently reported an update on the Denver Police Department’s (DPD) use of surveillance cameras. The cameras are part of the DPD’s High Activity Location Observation (H.A.L.O.) Program.graffiti, to track down drug dealers, to keep watch during the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and to generally keep an eye on things. The Westword article mentions a few camera locations, but where are the rest of the 259 cameras around the city?policies in the DPD Operations Manual indicate the H.A.L.O. Program Commander shall maintain a list of H.A.L.O. approved locations for cameras for the department website. I have not been able to find any such list. The lack of camera location listings could be an oversight or due to a simple lack of resources. Given the frequency of news stories about the surveillance program, the cameras obviously are not a secret. Sharing the specific locations could make vandalism easy, but the choice was obviously already made to inform the public about the cameras’ existence.

The cameras have been installed at various times to combat

The H.A.L.O. Program

I’m sure there are many considerations to take into account when implementing a public surveillance program. Precedents in New York, London, and other cities are probably helpful. I admire the DPD’s effort to explore alternative crime-fighting strategies and to inform the public about those strategies. But, what is the efficacy of using surveillance cameras?

As the Westword story points out, the ACLU has claimed surveillance cameras “do not work to reduce crime. Study after study shows that surveillance cameras push crime around to other locations, but they don’t actually reduce the overall rate of crime.” Even if crime is just moved, eliminating the remaining crime in those areas may be easier given a concentration of resources. Also, using cameras may reduce the manpower needed to patrol the city. And, a good public outreach program could educate people that they are being watched. Knowing a criminal act will be caught on tape is likely to reduce crime. (Maybe you’ve seen people slam on their brakes at intersections with red-light cameras.)

I was unable to find contact information specifically for the H.A.L.O. program, but I have submitted an e-mail to Denver’s 311 e-mail address to ask for information about how the DPD measures the program and if a list of camera locations is in fact available. (I’ll update this post if I receive any information.)

Fighting crime is always an admirable effort. But, where is the line between fighting crime and invading privacy? Obviously, no one has clearly answered that question.

Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Alternatively, if someone is not committing a crime, there is no need to be concerned about being videotaped.