Fayette County

Lexington Police refuse to release info on surveillance cameras, appeal judge’s order

Surveillance cameras in Berry Hill Skatepark in Lexington. A sign at the entrance states that video cameras are in use.
Surveillance cameras in Berry Hill Skatepark in Lexington. A sign at the entrance states that video cameras are in use. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The city of Lexington continues to fight releasing information on how Lexington Police use surveillance cameras, taking its legal battle against a privacy activist to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Fayette Circuit Court Judge John Reynolds ordered the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government on June 19 to release documents related to 29 surveillance cameras used by Lexington Police.

The city asked Reynolds to reverse or revise his decision during a hearing on June 22, but Reynolds refused. The city filed a notice of appeal to the state Court of Appeals on July 23, according to court documents.

The fight over how much the public deserves to know about how Lexington uses surveillance cameras began more than a year ago.

Mike Maharrey, an activist and organizer for “We See You Watching Lexington,” filed an open records request for information related to the city’s surveillance technology, including purchase orders, grant applications and receipts for the devices, contracts with outside vendors, training manuals related to the technologies and written policies governing their use.

The police department told Maharrey it used 29 mobile surveillance cameras “available for a variety of video surveillance operations,” but did not provide any additional information other than redacted documents disclosing costs, according to Maharrey.

Policies outlining how the cameras can be used did not have to be disclosed under under the state’s Open Records Act, the city claimed.

Maharrey appealed to Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office, which ruled the city was wrong to deny Maharrey and ordered the city to turn over the documents. The city sued Maharrey on Sept. 29 in Fayette Circuit Court to stop the release of documents, a move Maharrey called a “bullying tactic.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is now representing Maharrey in court.

Surveillance cameras are in use in Berry Hill Skatepark on Buckhorn Drive in Lexington. A sign at the entrance states that video cameras are in use. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

In court documents, city lawyers have argued that releasing information about the surveillance cameras and how they are used could endanger police officers and confidential informants and would compromise covert law enforcement techniques.

In its motion asking Reynolds to amend his previous order, the city asked Reynolds to review the information, but he denied the city’s request.

Releasing the make and model of the equipment and training manuals would not jeopardize an ongoing investigation or the identities of police officers or informants, Reynolds wrote.

Maharrey said Wednesday he asked for more information about the city’s use of surveillance cameras because of concerns about the lack of policies governing how the cameras are used. Maharrey first became concerned about the city’s use of cameras when it placed one at Berry Hill skate park. The city has since created policies about the use of cameras in its parks.

Police should also have policies that protect the privacy of citizens, Maharrey said.

“What I would hope to learn generally: What type of surveillance technology is being used? Are they putting cameras in people’s cars? Are there policies that are guiding their use? Are there policies in place to protect innocent by-standers? Are there policies to make sure this technology is not disproportionately used in minority communities?” he said.

As a policy, the city does not comment on ongoing lawsuits.