Charlottesville’s housing authority is fine-tuning a policy that will govern its use of surveillance cameras.
The Redevelopment and Housing Authority safety committee reviewed a camera policy during a virtual meeting on Tuesday.
The committee has been discussing crime enforcement and cameras for the past two months following a push from South First Street residents after the slaying of 27-year-old Dre’Shawn Rayvon McDonald in South First Street public housing. The Charlottesville Police Department pledged to increase patrols in an emergency safety meeting called shortly after the shooting.
Police have responded to 13 shots-fired calls on South First Street in 2020, more than 2016 through 2019 combined, according to CPD data. The areas around South First Street and Westhaven have seen at least three killings and 64 reports of shots fired in the past five years.
The policy under consideration would apply to all CRHA properties, although not all would get cameras.
Executive Director John Sales said the housing authority is considering using fixed cameras. The equipment would not be monitored in real time.
CRHA would review footage on its own in certain instances, Sales said. For example, he said some empty units have been broken into recently and CRHA might review the footage to address the problem.
The policy says cameras would be mounted in set locations, but could be temporarily moved if issues such as property damage or personal security arise. The cameras would focus on common areas, not individual doorways or backyards.
“We are really trying to protect the privacy of residents,” Sales said.
The video surveillance would only be released when it is authorized by Sales and a Community Review Panel. Each public housing site would have its own panel.
“I do think it’s important we raise up residents’ voice in the process because they’re going to be most impacted,” Sales said.
CRHA will provide the committee with a log of every time the cameras have been reviewed every 30 days.
The panel’s makeup hasn’t been finalized, but will include several residents who live in the housing sites, a CRHA representative and an independent third-party representative.
The committee discussed the possibility of a pool of panelists who live at each site and a pool of third-party representatives, with some discussion about those members coming from the Public Housing Association of Residents, Legal Aid Justice Center or the city’s Human Rights Commission. The committee also considered adding a representative from CRHA’s contracted security firm and the Charlottesville Police Department.
The panel would not actually review the videos, only the applications to access them. The applications would not include identifying information. The panel will also review complaints about the location of the cameras.
Sales said residents who serve on the panel would be required to sign confidentiality agreements.
The panel’s decisions on requests to review footage would be presented as a recommendation to CRHA’s executive director, who would make the final decision. If the executive director’s decision is not in line with the recommendation, the request would go to the CRHA board of commissioners.
CRHA board member Laura Goldblatt said the agency will consult with its legal counsel to determine a quicker process for commissioners to review requests so applicants don’t have to wait several weeks between regular meetings.
CRHA plans to keep footage for 45 days, but requests must be submitted within 30 days of an incident. Once a request for video was submitted, the particular footage would be archived to ensure it isn’t deleted.
The committee will discuss the policy again at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 5 before sending it out for public comment. The meetings are open to the public and residents are encouraged to join and provide input on safety measures. To participate, visit tinyurl.com/crhasafety. The meeting passcode is 181698.