News + Notes

Connected law-enforcement booster nixes contentious surveillance contract with Lafayette PD

Photo by Travis Gauthier
Numerous surveillance cameras are mounted on a pole at Brooks Bernard's residence, which doubles as his operations center, between Scott and Lafayette.

The gist: The secretly executed cooperative endeavor agreement between LCG and a private businessman to provide security cameras for the city of Lafayette quietly died more than six months ago.

Get caught up, quickly. Lafayette City Council members were unaware that Mayor-President Josh Guillory had signed the contract in November 2020 with Lafayette-based Crime Fighters of Louisiana LLC, an entity owned by wealthy law enforcement booster Brooks Bernard. The agreement, which may have violated the home rule charter, would have allowed Bernard to mount his license plate readers on Lafayette Utilities System’s poles throughout the city and unincorporated areas of the parish in exchange for giving Lafayette police access to the footage, The Current reported in December 2020.  

Bernard terminated the agreement last summer amid what former Lafayette Police Chief Thomas Glover says were threats to remove Lafayette officers’ access to his system.

The contract had been in months of political and legal limbo since council members expressed concerns, most notably that the arrangement appeared to give Bernard sole ownership of the data his cameras collected and put no limitations on how he could monetize or use it, while restricting LCG’s use to “law enforcement purposes.” 

Even restricting use of the data for “law enforcement purposes” is ripe for abuse if there isn’t some kind of public oversight, ACLU Louisiana staff attorney Bruce Hamilton told The Current in December 2020. Hamilton said he’d never before encountered an arrangement where a government has handed over this much surveillance power to a private company (one that, as The Current later reported, lacked a required state license). 

Bernard has long provided local law enforcement and schools and churches free access to his footage. His outfit has contracts with agencies around Acadiana and in cities and towns from South Texas to Alabama, and has cameras mounted on private property in some areas. Informally, he works with Lafayette PD and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, offering remote access to officers and investigators who review evidence. He told The Current he cooperates solely to help fight crime and would “find a way to make money eventually” while acknowledging at least one instance in which he charged a private attorney before handing over footage. In an email to City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan, obtained through a public records request, Bernard makes his case for selling the data. “Everyone captures whatever data they can and sells it,” he tells the attorney. Bernard, who amassed his wealth in the oilfield services industry and is an active political donor, also said he would not be subject to public records requests, another potential sticking point for council members. 

Earlier acquisition of security systems at LPD came with much more public discussion and oversight. LPD purchased surveillance cameras in 2015 and has continued to expand the program. Last year it installed an additional 48 license plate readers (36 purchased with grant money and 12 donated by the housing authority) in the 70501 zip code, a high-crime area. The original appropriation was approved by the council in 2014 and included a recurring budget item for camera maintenance. Greg Logan, the city-parish attorney, has cited that maintenance line item in arguing the mayor-president could sign off on the Bernard agreement without the council. But the terms of the contract resembled a franchise agreement, which would normally require an ordinance to execute.

City Councilman Glenn Lazard was skeptical from the outset. “It’s not going to fly with me,” Lazard, an attorney, said upon learning of the contract. “I think it is a franchise agreement, and it should have been an ordinance.”

Council members weren’t notified that Bernard officially backed away in May. Interviewed in December, Lazard said it had been six or seven months since he viewed a revised version of the contract that reflected some of the changes council members requested. As of this week, he was still unaware of the contractual agreement’s status. 

“Last I heard, it was still active,” Councilman Andy Naquin, who supports the arrangement, told The Current in December. In fact, just months before, Naquin accompanied City Councilman Pat Lewis to Bernard’s operations center between Scott and Lafayette for a tour of the facility, according to Lewis. 

“It’s not accurate,” LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle texted back in early December after multiple unnamed sources confirmed to The Current the administration was no longer pursuing the contract. The chief spokesman said he did not know the status of the agreement. 

After that text exchange, The Current reviewed a copy of the letter Bernard’s attorney sent to M-P Guillory on May 27 terminating the contract, citing a 30-day provision allowing either party to do so. There is nothing preventing the two sides from re-entering negotiations, although most council members say the agreement would have to undergo major changes to win their approval. (View the cancellation letter, obtained Jan. 13 through a public records request, here.)

LCG attorneys Logan and Paul Escott did not respond to requests for comment. Brooks Bernard also did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment for this story. 

Cut off? Glover says Bernard sent an email last year threatening to cut off some officers’ access to his system. “He falsely assumed I was supporting someone else, or someone else’s cameras. I supported the use of cameras, his cameras,” adds the ex-chief, noting that the PD was getting a lot of calls from other companies wanting to do business with the department. 

At the time Glover was fired, LPD was continuing to pursue camera purchases on its own. Law enforcement sources tell The Current footage from Bernard’s camera system is still being used by Lafayette PD to solve crimes, and it’s unclear whether Bernard ever followed through on his threats to Glover. 

Maj. Monte Potier, the fifth person to lead the Lafayette PD in the past two years, did not respond to emailed requests for comment. 

This story has been updated to include a link to an email exchange between Brooks Bernard and an LCG attorney about selling data from the proposed surveillance system.