The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to allow New Orleans police to use facial recognition and other surveillance tools, siding with Mayor LaToya Cantrell and a number of civic groups over the concerns of privacy advocates as the city confronts a violent crime surge.
The 4-2 vote on an ordinance introduced by District C Council member Eugene Green rolls back parts of a broader surveillance ban passed by the council in 2020. It allows the New Orleans Police Department to request access to facial-recognition technology when it is investigating violent crimes. The NOPD will also be allowed to use “cell-site simulators,” or mock cell towers used in cell phone surveillance, NOLA.com reports.
New Orleans police, Cantrell and a number of civic and business groups have argued for months that dropping the council's earlier restrictions, which took effect last year, would give the city's depleted force more tools to find and arrest people who committed murders and other acts of violence. New Orleans had 145 murders in the first half of this year, far outpacing any other U.S. city on a per-capita basis and putting it on pace for the highest count since the late 1990s.
Police officials on Thursday said the technology is a vital investigative tool. Sgt. David Barnes, addressing the council, stressed that the new NOPD policy, which was written in anticipation of Thursday’s vote, creates several layers of human review to prevent misidentification.