Thursday, May 22, 2023

Screenshot of an AI camera surveillance system by Fusus, a potential vendor for Brunswick’s $978K grant for a camera system across the city.

Cameras coming to Brunswick

A state fund awarded Brunswick close to $1 million for a new city camera system to reduce crime.

The city will use the $978,450 grant to build out “a large and extensive network of cameras” at busy intersections. They also hope to integrate with existing cameras in city limits, like those at stores and city buildings, according to the project description. The cameras would connect to artificial intelligence software to help the Brunswick Police Department identify people and cars, watch live video feeds and read license plates.

The funds come from federal Covid-19 relief funds allotted to Georgia.

The goal is to help police efficiently gather and use video evidence in criminal investigations. This comes as Glynn County is experiencing a surge in gun violence, which has included the May 26 shooting of five people, the death of a 16-year-old football player on June 13, and as recently as Wednesday, the shooting death of a 35-year-old man.

City Manager Regina McDuffie cautioned that the city is still early in the process and will soon begin vetting proposals from surveillance companies.

Read the list of proposed intersections and the full project description.

The city manager said the city would not seek facial recognition in their cameras but did not rule it out for the future if it “becomes available or affordable.” Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have raised privacy concerns about surveillance contracts with local police.

“We will be looking at various ways to make sure that we minimize the invasion of privacy, that we don’t retain the information that’s not relative to investigations or incidents,” McDuffie said.

Neighbors on Gwinnett street congregate and some yell at police after Savannah Police Officer Ernest Ferguson shot Saudi Arai Lee on June 24, 2022. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current GA

Anniversary of a police shooting

Saturday marks one year since a Savannah Police Department officer shot a Carver Village man on a blistering hot June day.

Former officer Ernest Ferguson fatally shot 31-year-old Saudi Arai Lee on June 24, 2022. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the officer approached Lee, and the man tried to show Ferguson his weapons permit and handgun. A chase ensued, and Ferguson shot Lee, the GBI said.

Timothy Lee, Saudi Lee’s uncle, told The Current his nephew meditated daily, subscribed to Buddhism, and was no troublemaker.

As of this week, the GBI said the case awaits a decision by Chatham County’s district attorney, Shalena Cook Jones, on whether to press charges. The GBI finished its investigation in August 2022.

Since the shooting of Lee, the Savannah Police Department has seen improvements: while four “officer-involved shootings” by Savannah officers preceded Lee’s death, there hasn’t been a single one since. Many factors could be in play: improved officer morale, training and vetting under a new chief, a reduction in Savannah crime, or improvements in the local economy.

Police shootings make citizens less likely to report crimes to police. A 2016 study from the American Sociological Association analyzed 911 calls reporting crimes before and after a highly publicized police use-of-force incident in Milwaukee in 2004. It found that residents, especially those in Black neighborhoods, were less likely to call the police to report a violent crime after police violence occurred. But as time passed, “citizen crime reporting returned to normal levels,” the study said.

Warnock’s young supporters at a campaign rally for Warnock at a Savannah south side church, Nov. 6, 2022.

Stories to watch

Savannah man accused of shooting Warnock canvasser indicted: (Superior Court of Chatham County, May 31, 2023): A grand jury indicted Jimmy Paiz, of Savannah, in the shooting of a 15-year-old who knocked on his door. The teenager was door-knocking for Rev. Raphael Warnock’s senate campaign. Paiz shot him through the door with a rifle, injuring the teenager’s thigh, the indictment alleges. In a letter filed in court, Paiz apologized to the teenager, who is Black, writing, “I beg you, never, ever think you were the victim because of who you are, your identity, your person — no!”

Supreme Court considers recoil from landmark gun rights ruling (NBC News, June 18, 2023): On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider taking a case about the ban on people convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun. A federal judge in Texas invalidated the ban in March, and the Biden administration appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. It could be a major legal test for gun restrictions, according to NBC News. Nearly two-thirds of intimate partner homicides are committed with a firearm, an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis reported.

Report: 77% drop in youth incarceration in U.S. (The Sentencing Project, May 2023): From 2000 to 2020, the number of young people under the age of 18 held in juvenile incarceration facilities (jails and prisons) on a typical day dropped from 108,800 to 25,000. The decline reflects reduced youth arrests. The 2020 count also came at a time when jails took in less people to avoid COVID spread, according to the report. Still, the arrest rate for youth peaked in 1996 but has since plummeted by more than 80%.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...