GRANOLAPARK: Now serving crow

Photo: Ward 1 Councilmember Seth Grimes, in the civil-rights defending minority.


Dear Readers,

We have a nice dish of crow for the city council members and residents who voted for or advocated sharing the city’s license plate scanner info.

Remember when civil liberties defenders such as Your Gilbert warned that under a Republican governor the state police monitored left-wing political activiist’s license plate numbers IN TAKOMA PARK? Remember when people scoffed, saying “that was, like, seven whole years ago! That would never happen again! Maryland is a solid blue state now, there will never be another Republican governor!”

These were residents who organized in the wake of crimes – car-jackings, home robberies and muggings –  in their well-off neighborhoods. They cuffed aside civil rights concerns, urging the city council to expand Takoma Park’s license-plate reader program – sharing data with surrounding jurisdictions including the state and the federal governments.

Because, your silly civil rights are not as important as keeping their stuff safe.


And the police pooh-poohed civil rights concerns. The data will only be used for “legitimate law enforcement purposes,” they reassured the council and citizens.

Civil-liberties defenders pointed out that when the Republican governor’s office ordered the state police to monitor anti-war and anti-death penalty activists between 2004 – 2007 THAT was a “legitimate law enforcement purpose,” as defined by the governor’s office.

“That will never happen again!” the police said.


Never has happened again.

Against all expectations we have a Republican governor again. In two years we could have a Republican president.

Would you like some fresh ground pepper on your serving of crow?

A question for the city council

So, here’s a question the city council should ask when they meet again in January,  a question they can turn and ask the police.

If an order comes down from a federal or state office to use that data to monitor political activists is there a legal GUARANTEE that state, county and city police will refuse to obey that order?

If the answer is “no,” then the city council should immediately stop sharing license plate data.

If the police say they have no way of knowing how the data is being used by other agencies, other than for “legitimate law enforcement purposes.” that’s a “no.”


The city council discusses the police request to fund their Community Cam Program, Nov. 24.

Chipping away

The police are tone-deaf to this civil-liberties tune.

At the last meeting of the year, Nov. 24, they asked the city council to approve the purchase of a “security video sharing system” with no public discussion. Even after the debate and close vote (3-4) on the license plate reader issue, they still don’t get that surveillance is a sore subject.

Fortunately, some on the council are vigilant. Councilmember Seth Grimes (one of the three who voted against sharing license plate data) moved to table the request, based not on merits of the program, he said, but on “inadequate public notice.”

The motion was defeated. The council proceeded with discussion and a vote.

The police call it a Community Cam Program.

The police don’t set up any cameras themselves. They ask local businesses and residents to register their private security cameras in the program. If a crime occurs in the vicinity of any registered camera, the police ask to view or provide video taken at that time.

Councilmember Terry Seamens, who also voted against sharing license plate info, said that even though the program seemed relatively benign, he found it  “disappointing that we had no opportunity to discuss [it] publicly.”

The request passed unanimously.

– Gilbert

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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "GRANOLAPARK: Now serving crow"

  1. The Community Cam Program cost almost $13,000 for the first year!

    It’s essentially an online spreadsheet that could have been developed by some college kids in an afternoon.

    To compare Takoma Park to Philadelphia is the old apple and orange. Takoma Park may only have 70 participants in this program. That is two pages of paper.

    But the police feel pressured to show the department is doing something beyond parking late-model Crown Vics on Elm Ave covered with leaves to scare crooks — “scare cars.”

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