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Northampton residents uneasy with proposal for surveillance cameras

  • Barra Cohen, left, and Rachel Weber hold signs during a public meeting held Wednesday at Northampton Senior Center to discuss the use of surveillance cameras in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper, left, speaks during a public meeting held Wednesday at Northampton Senior Center to discuss the use of surveillance cameras in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Dana Goldblatt speaks during Wednesday’s public meeting at Northampton Senior Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Erik Matlock speaks during a public meeting held Wednesday at Northampton Senior Center to discuss the use of surveillance cameras in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS—



@kate_ashworth
Thursday, September 14, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The thought of surveillance cameras capturing every moment on Main Street has residents on edge.

Could the images be used by federal agencies such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and are the recordings public record, some people asked Police Chief Jody Kasper at a community discussion Wednesday night at the Senior Center.

At this point, Kasper said that may be the case, but more research needs to be done on the idea of downtown surveillance cameras.

About 100 people came out to the discussion, and most of those speaking disagreed with placing cameras downtown. Some held up signs that said “NO.” Many snapped or clapped when some raised a point as to why the cameras should not be downtown.

Some say the city’s resources should not be used for surveillance cameras. People mentioned more community policing when solving cases.

ConVino Wine Bar owner Caroline McDaniel said she opposes surveillance cameras. When there’s an issue at or by her business, she calls the police.

“We are the surveillance,” she said.

Over the few years of running her business downtown, McDaniel said she has seen much crime.

“Somebody stole my rosemary plant last year,” she said.

But a couple of months later, someone dropped off a new rosemary plant, she said. Maybe the person who stole it felt guilty, she said.

Franchesca Thepenier, 22, who works at the wine bar and attends Smith College, said she walks through downtown a lot, many times walking home from work around 11:30 p.m. She said she feels safe and does not want surveillance cameras monitoring Main Street.

Thepenier said she has concerns with how the cameras could impact addicts.

“I think the police in Northampton do great,” she said.

The cameras would cost around $70,000 to $100,000 to install and would come from capital improvement funds, according to Kasper.

There will be no license plate readers or facial recognition technology, she said. The cameras would be “fixed cameras,” which cannot be manipulated by a user. Footage would be retained for 21 days and then recorded over.

While Kasper said Northampton is safe, cameras could be beneficial in solving cases that would go unsolved without the footage.

“A lot of people think nothing goes on,” Kasper said.

One case that is unsolved, Kasper said, is a hate crime that happened last year when a woman was walking on Pleasant Street and two men told her to move back to Puerto Rico. They threw a rock at the woman’s head, causing a head injury, Kasper said.

Another case that remains unsolved is an incident where a man was attacked and beaten by four men at Pearl and Main streets, Kasper said. The victim required facial reconstructive surgery, she said.

Video footage of the incidents could have helped identify the suspects, according to Kasper.

There are city-operated cameras in the parking garage, on police cruisers, at Northampton High School, John F. Kennedy Middle School, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and at the police and fire facilities, according to Kasper.

Some downtown businesses have surveillance cameras, Kasper said, but the quality of the images varies.

She said the department does live monitoring of large events and protests such as the Hot Chocolate Run, First Night and Pride March. The department uses a mobile command center provided through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Bill Newman, director of the western regional office of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said although the city’s police department won’t be using facial recognition technology, another law enforcement agency or federal agency could obtain the footage.

He said the cameras could also have a “chilling” effect on First Amendment rights where people could feel uneasy about protesting downtown due to the surveillance cameras.

“I think it’s the worst idea you’ve had,” Newman told Kasper.

Henry Heaphy, 75, an investment researcher, stood out in the crowd Wednesday night, supporting the surveillance camera proposal.

Heaphy said he has looked at the police department’s statistics and he said the number of calls and incidents is going up.

“I grew up in Northampton,” he said. “I’ve seen it change.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.