Ethel Hoenig, police communications operator supervisor, sits at a command...

Ethel Hoenig, police communications operator supervisor, sits at a command center where monitors stream footage to help dispatch and officers react more efficiently to emergencies. (Aug. 23, 2013). Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

A high-tech surveillance system called the Nassau County Domain Awareness program, linking hundreds of cameras that can stream live footage from public and private places to the police communications center in Westbury, is up and running, officials said.

The cameras are active at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, at parks and beaches in the Town of Oyster Bay, and will soon be operational in more than a dozen public school districts, with plans to add to the network additional cameras through voluntary "public-private partnerships," the police department said. The system began coming online earlier this year.

More to come

Police said they did not know the precise number of cameras already accessible to them, but said there will eventually be thousands across Nassau. Currently, they have to be accessed by police individually through the locations where they are based. That would change under an upgrade under consideration by the county that would integrate all Domain Awareness system cameras into a single network that police can monitor from designated computers, police said.

The county is vetting five companies specializing in such technology, and officials said they plan to choose one soon. They declined to name the companies being considered.

Police said they do not monitor the cameras full time but only during crime investigations or emergencies. Still, civil liberties advocates have voiced concerns.

Authorities say they hope the system will eventually be capable of surveilling those areas within the county -- including houses of worship, colleges and universities -- seen as vulnerable to mass shootings or terrorism. Locations in Nassau that voluntarily sign on to the program also provide police with digitized floor plans of their buildings. At some point, police expect they will be able to remotely maneuver cameras in many of the locations, allowing them to track a roving suspect or zoom in on a suspicious object.

Nassau Police Chief of Department Steve Skrynecki said the current system will be critical during emergencies.

"We can get real-time access if someone enters any of these areas with a gun or other dangerous device," he said. "This will help us react to all types of emergencies. It's an invaluable tool. . . . We do not have the ability to look in anytime we want to. We do not have permission to do that, nor do we want to."

Inspired by NYPD

Development of Nassau's camera program was inspired in part by New York City's Domain Awareness System -- the so-called "Ring of Steel" -- which collects and analyzes video and information from thousands of New York Police Department cameras, various law enforcement databases, license plate readers and radiation detectors. Several other large cities, including Baltimore and Los Angeles, have similar networks in place.

The system in its current form did not require approval from the county legislature, county spokesman Brian Nevin said. County officials said they could not immediately provide the costs incurred by the county so far. The police department said those costs have been minimal. Nevin said the system is based on existing technology at each property and written agreements with participants. Participating locations pay no fees to the county or vice versa.

"Nassau County is leading the nation with this cutting-edge crime fighting tool that truly assists police with investigations and helps law enforcement quickly identify suspects," County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement.

Written permission

Rules governing the police department's access to private cameras are laid out in agreements negotiated by county lawyers, police said. Officials said they would not divulge details of those agreements because of security concerns.

"In its most simplistic form, these agreements state that if 911 is called to report an emergency at these locations, that would trigger our ability -- with the location's permission -- to tap into and monitor their system," Skrynecki said.

Higher costs to the county are expected once it chooses a vendor to implement a new part of the program -- referred to by law enforcement officials as Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) -- that will organize and manage the existing camera network, officials said.

No timetable or cost for that was available. Police said at least some of the funding will likely come from federal Department of Homeland Security grants. "It's premature to provide a cost estimate," Nevin said. "It will likely require legislative approval."

Nassau officials say the camera system is a "force multiplier," allowing authorities to reap the benefits of having electronic eyes on the ground in many areas without having to assign officers there full time.

Concerns over privacy

Civil liberties advocates, however, said they are concerned about the program.

"The use of large-scale public video surveillance raises serious privacy concerns," said Jason Starr, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Nassau County chapter. "It is critical that clear rules and procedures be established for the retention, storage and destruction of video surveillance images, and for access to and dissemination of such video images."

Skrynecki said safeguards are in place to protect the public and prevent abuse. They include oversight of the system by supervisors in the police communications bureau and a stipulation that each participant has final say over when -- and for how long -- police can monitor their closed-circuit television systems.

Additional rules governing police use of the network are being drafted, Skrynecki said.

Officials at properties participating in the program said they believe it helps protect the public.

"It's not a privacy violation," said Dennis Sheridan, vice president for administration at Winthrop-University Hospital. "It's for security only and remains in the control of Winthrop. The system is already in place."

Marta Kane, a spokeswoman for the Town of Oyster Bay, said Nassau police can access footage from all town cameras. She could not immediately provide their total number. "Pretty much every camera we do have is outdoors, mostly at parks and beaches," Kane said.

Nassau's Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which gives police access to cameras in the Roslyn and Plainedge school districts as part of the program, said it will bring the system online in Oyster Bay, Island Park and nine other school districts.

Nassau County residents interviewed at locations under surveillance had mixed feelings about the program.

"If the police use it properly, it can help them respond to tragedies, and if they don't [use it properly], it would be un-American," said Robin DeHaan of Mineola, as she shopped in Roosevelt Field mall. "That's a heck of a lot of power in one organization's hands."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Robin DeHaan. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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