Exchange: ADOT Explains Why Highway Cameras Sometimes Turn Off | United States government and politics

PHOENIX (AP) – Traffic cameras across Arizona monitor you every day as you commute, capturing crashes and backups on state highways, but the Arizona Department of Transportation decides if you can see these camera feeds or if they turn black.

“It’s basically common sense,” said A POINT spokesperson Doug Nick. “We don’t want to show things that might be upsetting or violent on this system, just because there are thousands of people out there, some of whom may be children or people who just shouldn’t want to see that.”

On May 25, 2020, 28 years old Dion Johnson was shot and killed along the 101 loop during a confrontation with a state trooper. There is no body camera video of the shooting, but Arizona’s Family was the only TV station to record a traffic feed from ADOT showing the aftermath.

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About two months later, ADOT created a procedure for feeding traffic cameras. The Arizona family asked Nick if Johnson’s incident changed how the state Department of Public Safety and ADOT view food cuts. “No,” Nick said.

However, there was no written procedure for feeding traffic cameras prior to this shoot. “We codified this procedure because it was basically common sense procedure before that, which hadn’t been written down,” Nick said. “…which is standard practice in this agency, that when you see a procedure that may have been done rather informally, let’s make it work in a standard way.”

Many people don’t think that’s common sense, including those in The Black Lives Matter movement. “They don’t want transparency because they don’t want accountability,” said Mimi Arrayaa, co-director of BLM PHX Metro.

She thinks it’s no coincidence at all that state policy was created so quickly after Johnson’s shooting. “They got a lot of heat for this video and they changed tactics,” Arrayaa said.

Nick said the purpose of the cameras is to show the public what is happening on the highways of Arizona in real time. ADOT controls each of the cameras from its traffic operations center, and they can pan the cameras, zoom in, and even turn off those feeds. Also inside the TOC is a DPS soldier.

“The DPS troopers are there just to keep tabs on what’s going on, on the highways, so if they need to deploy law enforcement resources, they can do that,” Nick said.

Soldiers have been stationed inside the TOC since 2014. They can ask to turn off the power, but the ADOT said it is making the last call. Anyone, including the Arizona family, can view live traffic feeds around Arizona and save the footage.

When ADOT cuts the feed, news stations and audiences are literally in the dark, unable to see what’s going on and unable to save the footage for later, but those inside the TOC, including the DPS soldier on duty there, still can.

According to the procedure put in writing in July 2020, ADOT can cut off video feeds when law enforcement controls the position of the camera for reasons other than traffic conditions. It also says feeds can be cut when live footage of law enforcement activity could impede operations or officer safety.

Since ADOT created the procedure, camera feeds have been cut hundreds of times, sometimes ranging from freeway chases to high-risk crashes and stops. When ADOT pulls the plug, it’s not just one camera but the whole system. Hundreds of streams are going black across the state.

The Arizona family asked Nick if he finds it disturbing that streams have been cut at least 87 times in 2020 and more than 500 times in 2021. “No, because, again, 99.3% of the time , these cameras are on,” Nick said.

The Arizona family asked ADOT for records dating back to 2019, showing when the streams were cut. The logs that ADOT sent us don’t begin documenting the cuts until May 2020.

While Nick said ADOT cuts the stream to protect the public from disturbing and violent scenes, attorney Benjamin Taylor believes the community deserves to see critical moments happen on our highways.

“Why are they turned off when it’s evidence showing whether that person acted right or wrong, and it helps a judge and jury make critical decisions in court,” Taylor said.

According to ADOT records, the agency turned off the feed multiple times in 2020 so DPS could use highway cameras to monitor protesters.

In July 2020, logs reveal that DPS and an ADOT supervisor kept a very close watch on protesters on the Mill Avenue Bridge in Tempe, zooming in on people even though there was no direct path to the 202 loop.

“I think it’s deeply troubling given this country’s history of inappropriate and unnecessary police surveillance of peaceful civil rights protesters that this is continuing now,” Smart Justice campaign strategist KM Bell said at the ‘ACLU of Arizona.

“The intent of these cameras is to look at traffic accidents and freeway accidents,” Taylor said. “However, it appears that law enforcement is using these cameras to spy and try to control what the protesters were doing.”

“If somebody’s going to get on a highway or something, or if there’s going to be an issue of violence, potential violence, again, whatever the genesis of the protest, we’re not going all just not taking the opportunity to see that. or show that to the general public,” Nick said.

Logs show that ADOT agents cut streams 15 times in the first four days of this year alone. The reasons vary. Logs show streams have been cut off in the past due to wrong-way drivers, high-risk traffic stops, vehicle fires, or even pedestrians walking on the freeway.

When the cameras go dark, there’s no way to record and no way to go back and review what happened. Nick said there are currently no plans to change the procedure.

“The assumption that DPS is doing something wrong in these situations when in fact the bigger concern may be what someone else is doing?” said Nick. “If this is a high-risk stop, we don’t want to show any violence, no matter who perpetrated it.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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