From Liberty City to Downtown, there are more than 130 police cameras watching over the city of Miami.
“The purpose of these cameras is, in fact, to see what’s happening and we try to take advantage of that as often as we can,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina.
NBC 6 was given access inside Miami’s “Virtual Policing Unit,” where law enforcement personnel monitor the cameras. They can zoom in and out, even rotate them to a particular location.
Sergeant Alex Gutierrez oversees the surveillance program. He says the cameras can capture key information to solve crimes, from a vehicle’s tag to articles of clothing.
“Before it was just a blue hat. Now it can be a blue X hat, depending on what’s actually on it,” he said.
“We want to make sure we capture the right guy, so we want to give as much vital information to our officers out on the road as possible,” said Gutierrez.
But some are raising concerns about residents’ privacy.
“I find this to be very disturbing,” said Florida ACLU’s Deputy Director Melba Pearson, when asked about the Miami police cameras.
“Just because someone lives in a particular neighborhood doesn’t mean they need to be scrutinized on a regular basis,” she said. “These cameras should be for targeting investigations only not blanket wholesale surveillance of entire communities."
Most of the residents that we approached didn’t want to go on camera but said they feel safer having more eyes on the streets.
Pearson says the cameras could lead to racial profiling.
A recent ACLU report found that people living in predominantly black neighborhoods were more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and convicted in Miami-Dade County.
In a statement, Miami State Attorney Katherine Rundle Fernandez said she is committed to pursue “unbiased justice for all.” Her office is working with the ACLU, community leaders and other local agencies to address the findings.
The Miami Police Chief insists the cameras are not being used improperly.
“These cameras are all put in public spaces right where people know that they don't necessarily have an expectation of privacy anyway,” said Colina.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez echoed the sentiment.
“It’s no different than a police officer walking a beat,” he said.
Pearson encouraged authorities to invest more in community-based programs.
“It’s that community policing that has proven across the county, time after time, to be effective, as opposed to breeding more distrust through heavy-handed tactics and widespread surveillance,” she said.
Miami Police tells us they’ll continue expanding their camera program and they have a budget of more than half a million dollars to do so.