‘Dangerous’ camera boxes mounted ‘without authorization’ along New York streets

Holly Bensur Contributor
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Big Brother is watching you in St. Lawrence County, New York.

At least six light gray boxes containing cameras have been identified on utility poles in the area, but law enforcement officials refuse to identify who installed them, North Country Now reports.

The cameras have also been spotted in the New York towns of Massena, Norfolk, Norwood, Raymondville, Waddington, Canton, DeKalb Junction and Malone.

Michael Jay, a Norwood resident, said that close-up inspection reveals no identification or inscriptions on the boxes.

Law enforcement officials at local, state and federal agencies confirmed the boxes contain license plate readers. The cameras take snapshots and are not capable of sending a live feed, North Country Now reported in an update on Thursday.

The cameras appear to be identical to license plate readers sold on websites, possessing characteristics like a visible light camera, infrared camera and an infrared light source. They are capable of reading plates on passing vehicles, recording the plate number, date, time, location and then sending it to a database for storage. The boxes will alert law enforcement if they identify a wanted vehicle or driver.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells told local press he has used similar units for ten years, but said the mysterious cameras “are not mine.”

The Massena Electric Department recently detached one of the boxes from a pole that it operates.

Andrew McMahon, a supervisor of the Massena Electric Department, said some of his workers noticed a box hanging in their service region and removed it from the pole. McMahon said the box was “in the electric space and dangerous, mounted without our authorization.”

McMahon gave the box to the Massena Police Department and said, “We didn’t even know it was a camera.”

McMahon said he did not know where the box came from, but assumed it was “probably the feds, but that’s a hunch.”

He had been working with the Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier about placing cameras at intersections and playgrounds so police could monitor the safety of their citizens, but found that the unclaimed cameras were not related to this project.

Currier said he returned the box to the owner, but would not identify the owner.

On Wednesday, no officials in the area had approved the placement of the cameras. State Police Lt. Kevin Boyea said that he had no knowledge of the boxes, where they came from, or why they were there.

A spokesperson from National Grid, the major electric distributor in the region, said the company occasionally agrees to requests from police organizations for placement of such devices on utility poles, but they are not allowed to disclose any information about whose cameras they are or where the cameras might be.

Virginia Limmiatis, a senior media relations representative for National Grid in Syracuse, said their policy “authorizes the user to plug into our system. Under the agreement they are required to install and maintain their own equipment.” She could not say who the cameras belong to.

“A Border Patrol operations officer in the sector station in Swanton, Vt., said he had no knowledge about the use of the cameras,” North Country Now reported. “He referred questions to an investigator apparently associated with Franklin County law enforcement, who said he knew about other cameras, but didn’t know about deployment of license plate readers, and wouldn’t discuss it further.”

After a meeting of county police chiefs Thursday morning, Wells said that none of his fellow local chiefs were contacted about the existence of the cameras.

Despite the intrigue, police now appear to know who installed the cameras. But don’t hold your breath — although local police can now request and receive access to the devices, they won’t say where exactly they’re sending requests.

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