UC Irvine Police Accused of Recording Own Employees

The UC Regents and UCI Police Department are being sued in a class-action lawsuit by a university police officer’s union for allegedly illegally aggregating audio recordings at the UCIPD Offices. Police Chief Paul Henisey and Assistant Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson, as well as Johnson Controls Inc., a facilities services company, are included in the list of those facing charges.

The Federated University Police Officers Association (FUPOA), a union representing over 250 UC police officers, is filing this suit on behalf of employees, faculty and the general public, which they believe were at risk for being recorded. They believe that surveillance devices in the UCIPD offices were illegally used to record confidential conversations without the consent of the parties being recorded.

In a press release sent out by FUPOA, their President, Andrew Lopez, states, “Our privacy rights continue to be eroded by unauthorized government recording of private citizens such as this, and cannot be allowed to continue. We are entrusted by the public, among other things, to keep their constitutional, civil and privacy rights free from illegal government intrusion.

The lawsuit alleges that the surveillance system was discovered in December 2013 and claims that Johnson Controls Inc. provided and installed the system, thus aiding and abetting the alleged illegal recordings. According to the lawsuit transcript, these audio/video recording devices are supposedly “highly advanced in their recording capabilities and able to amplify recordings past those normally perceptible by standard audio recording,” and the plaintiffs claim that the devices are able to record audio through walls of the UCI PD building.

According to David Mastagni, one of the lawyers representing FUPOA in the lawsuit, they are looking at this case as an issue of the administration’s capability of surveillancing the public, not just rank-and-file members in the department. Mastagni claimed that they began asking that these recordings be put to an end; however, as the lawsuit states, it is unclear as to whether or not the surveillance systems in the police department have ceased recording since then.

UCI spokesperson Cathy Lawhon presents a different narrative. Lawhon explained that in December, a new camera system was installed to replace the old security cameras in the department. This replacement was reportedly a part of a regularly scheduled security update and included as an in-house expenditure.

She went on to say that these cameras came with an audio capability that was not initially disabled during installation. However, it remains unclear as to whether or not these cameras were purchased knowing that audio recording capabilities were included. Additionally, Lawhon claims that Chief Henisey did in fact put a stop to the recordings.

“Inadvertent recordings were made for a short period, less than a week according to the installer.  As soon as Chief Henisey learned that the cameras in the non-public areas of the department had audio, he immediately directed the installers to disable that function,” she said in an email to the New University.

Lawhon claimed that Chief Henisey promptly notified UCIPD personnel as soon as the function was disabled and had the installer delete all of the audio recorded content.

New University Staff Writer, Tess Andrea, contributed to this report.