Lakeland, FL (April 4, 2024) The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) will turn off the facial recognition function that comes standard with the security cameras we recently installed. The LDDA considers cameras an affordable and unbiased way to provide additional sets of eyes in the district to help keep the district clean and safe. The cameras were not purchased or installed because of facial recognition technology (FRT), but we certainly appreciated the opportunity to use the software to enhance the safety of Downtown.

The ACLU has made it clear that it plans to litigate the issue. The harmful effects of pointless litigation that the LDDA can not afford outweigh the small benefits that facial recognition would have provided. We have instructed our service provider to disable the FRT software.

In the meantime, we have removed the three faces loaded into the facial recognition software. Those faces belonged to three men who met the LDDA criteria for using the software and have: harassed and threatened an LDDA employee, trapping her briefly in her office; harassed and stolen from a Farmers Market vendor resulting in being trespassed from the Market; and a man with a long standing record of threats, harassment, and aggressive behavior that led to an injunction being issued against him several years ago by a Downtown property owner and who has been trespassed from multiple businesses. We will no longer know or receive notice when those three faces, or any others, enter the camera space of the Downtown district. LDDA, in partnership with the Downtown businesses, will continue with our long-standing, unofficial neighborhood watch program of notifying each other when there are threats to people or property. The cameras without facial recognition are helpful in that effort.

The LDDA takes great pride in innovation: innovating events, innovating ways to keep the district clean and safe; innovating in any way that draws people to our district and helps create and sustain a sense of community and joy.  But if anyone thinks we are innovators in the American surveillance state, public and private, they are woefully naïve. This software capability is standard on most cameras. What is not standard is a commitment to explain to the public what we wanted to do and why.

This experience has not at all diminished our commitment to serve and protect visitors to Downtown Lakeland, our businesses, employees and properties in the district. The cameras will continue to serve as a valuable tool in our efforts to keep Downtown clean and safe as they were originally intended.


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Cameras backed by facial recognition technology software have existed for a long time and are currently installed all over common spaces – public and private. Big box stores, convenience stores, intersections, stadiums, grocery stores, parks, schools – practically everywhere you go, cameras with facial recognition are in use by both public and private entities. The difference is, the LDDA was transparent and told you about it. We believe in transparency. The transparency is part of our strategy for deterrence. We believe in careful oversight of the camera usage. And we want you, the public, to be fully informed so you can make sound personal judgements.

The LDDA considers cameras an affordable and unbiased way to provide additional sets of eyes in the district to help keep the district clean and safe. We can monitor in real time – as staff time allows. We cannot and do not download anyone’s personal information through a camera supported with facial recognition software.

What can cameras with facial recognition do?

They can provide footage of an incident of violence, threat, or vandalism, which do sometimes occur in public spaces, and which police cannot always respond to. In one recent incident, a man became agitated at Farmers Market staff. He made her feel threatened by his physical actions and words. He had left before police could arrive. Cameras were able to identify his face; and now we will know if he comes into the area near our office. We can’t do anything else to or about him. But we owe that much protection to our staff and the public. To be clear, we do not know this man’s name or personal data because our facial recognition just matches faces. It doesn’t collect or connect to any database of personal information.

We hope that public awareness of these cameras and their capabilities will deter vandalism, attempted break ins, or God forbid something more serious. And certainly, if any of these occur, we want to have footage to aid police. That is the entire purpose of the cameras and software.

What the facial recognition technology affords us to do is to ignore the tens of thousands of visitors to Downtown Lakeland and focus on the tiny handful of people who behave in a threatening or destructively anti-social way. We have no interest, time, or staff capacity to “track” everyday people. In addition, we have layers of oversight built into the use of the cameras.

Here are the details of how we are using them:

People of interest are identified as follows:

Someone who has been trespassed from multiple businesses in Downtown.
Someone who has been trespassed from the Farmers Curb Market (the LDDA owns and operates the Market)
Someone who has threatened verbally or physically intimidated an employee.
Someone engaged in a crime in Downtown. (LPD would be consulted.)

How does “people of interest” work:
We have to physically upload a photo of said person to the software.  The software gives us ZERO information about that person – not a name, age, address, NOTHING. All it allows us to do – depending on the quality of the photo – is identify if that person is detected by one of the cameras, i.e. that person is within the Downtown area at that time. It provides an email alert to the Clean & Safe Manager. Currently, there are three (3) people of interest.

Checks and Balances:
As the Executive Director of the LDDA, I too have access to the full camera system to provide oversight to and accountability over the Clean & Safe Manager.  No person is added as a “person of interest” without reviewing the criteria and consultation with me.  As additional oversight of all LDDA staff, LDDA Board of Directors have full access. At any time, they can log in and check to see who may be identified as a person of interest and why.  Our goal is to have no persons of interest.

Because cameras are an important tool to keep people and property safe, we can provide access to our Downtown assigned police officers as well, as LPD requests access. They have expressed no interest in having  daily access.

The general public does not have access to the cameras. The property owners where the cameras are installed were given the option to have access to the LIVE FEED ONLY of the single camera installed on their property if they requested it.  As of now, no property owner has requested access. They would not have access to add or view persons of interest.

Downtown businesses and property owners spend tens of thousands of dollars every year repairing vandalism and graffiti and are victims of other crimes. There is no reason that we should ignore technology already used practically everywhere you go in public to further enhance our ability to deter bad behavior and to aid police in identifying those who committed crimes in Downtown.