Santa Cruz Grand Jury Critiques Local ‘Surveillance State’

The Santa Cruz County Grand Jury released a report this month calling for increased oversight and accountability of surveillance activities by local law enforcement.

The Grand Jury’s investigation was focused on the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department. The panel reviewed the department’s use of Ring doorbell cameras, license plate readers, body and dash cams, mobile device forensic tools (MDFT), drones, robots, and inmate communications. The goal was “to understand how law enforcement uses surveillance technologies and how the public might instill more transparency on the use of these technologies, while keeping in mind the investigative needs of law enforcement.”

The Grand Jury found lapses in data-keeping and public reporting. It offered the following recommendations:

R1. As Ring installations become more widespread, the Sheriff’s Office should include statistics on Amazon Ring Neighbors Portal usage in its annual report to the public by March 30, 2024.

R2. The Sheriff’s Office should consider using its 2024 annual Military Equipment Inventory public meeting as its forum to inform the public of intent to acquire or use any Automated License Plate Reader equipment.

R3. The Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual should review and propose potential revisions specific to confusing language in Policies 422 (Portable Audio/Video Recorders) and 423 (Body Worn Cameras) by December 31, 2023.

R4. The Sheriff’s Office should inform the public on whether Mobile Device Forensic Tools are used for consent searches specifically, and define and announce disposal dates for non-evidentiary data by December 31, 2023.

R5. The Sheriff’s Office may wish to recommend to the County Administration Office that clarifying language be added to the False Alarm and Administration online registration.

R6. Where possible, the Sheriff’s Office should publicly provide information on retention and specify disposal dates for all surveillance technologies non-evidentiary data by December 31, 2023.

R7. The Sheriff’s Office should consider regular public reporting on the intended acquisition and ongoing use of surveillance technologies not already publicly reported as required under state or county law. The Sheriff’s Office should consider using portions of the Military Equipment Inventory as a template for providing the public with pertinent information on any surveillance equipment proposed, or acquired through federal grants, or other funding rather than creating yet another reporting format by December 31, 2023.

R8. The Sheriff’s Office should review its Military Equipment Inventory to ensure compliance with AB-481. Where documentation is missing, the Sheriff’s Office should draft clarifying text either to share with the public for review, or for inclusion in the annual update by May 31, 2024.

R9. The Sheriff’s Office of Corrections should consider a documented process for handling the inadvertent recording of privileged communications, including inmate tablet use by September 30, 2023.

Read the full report here