For weeks, police in Boulder, Colo., have been secretly using video cameras to spy on a group of troublemakers that one city councilman suggested be banished from city limits when they commit petty crimes.
While it’s not unusual for police to conduct surveillance on public locations known to attract crime, the city kept this program a secret until a city councilmember accidentally brought it up at a meeting.
Police Chief Mark Beckner said the surveillance of several parks and public areas around the city’s municipal buildings would eventually have been made public, but told the Daily Camera that city officials first wanted to see what sort of behavior the cameras would record when people didn’t know about them.
“We hope that it eventually acts as a prevention device but also as a tool to solve crime,” he told the paper. “We think that once people know about it, it could have a change in behavior.”
The three cameras, which cost the city $8,000, resulted in at least one arrest of a person suspected of fighting. The cameras record activity around the clock and the footage is kept for 48 hours before the cameras record over it.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Boulder County told the Daily Camera that the public should have been told about the surveillance program, especially such details as who sees the footage and how it will be used.
“What they’re gathering and how they’re using it should be public, and there should be a public process about it,” spokesman Judd Golden told the paper. “It’s nice to say that they’re looking at their suspect group, but everybody is there and everybody is being captured. There are many stories of ways this information could be misused.”
“If they are installing cameras that are capturing the comings and goings of everyone, 99.99 percent of those people aren’t doing anything wrong,” he continued. “They say they aren’t retaining those images. I guess we’re supposed to take them at their word.”
City council has made addressing the problems caused by a core of transients in a central city park one of its top priorities. The city is considering fencing off an outdoor band shell where they gather, increasing the fines for offenses like public urination and open containers and issuing “exclusion orders” to keep them away from downtown.
In an email to colleagues earlier this week, councilmember Macon Cowles suggested taking an idea from Romeo and Juliet and banishing rule breakers from city limits for the same amount of time they would spend in jail for violations.
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