City Councilors react to surveillance camera proposal

  • A surveillance camera is attached to a light pole along Boylston Street near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Monday, April 14, 2014, in Boston. Northampton officials are torn over implementing a similar camera system in the city. AP Photo/Steven Senne

@ecutts_HG
Published: 9/8/2017 10:46:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At least one city councilor has taken a stance against a proposal to install police department surveillance cameras along Main Street, while another is in favor of the idea.

“I can tell you that I absolutely cannot envision a way in which I would vote to fund this program,” City Councilor At-Large Ryan O’Donnell said Friday by phone.

Meanwhile, one of O’Donnell’s colleagues on the council, Ward 5’s David A. Murphy, sees no problem with cameras.

“I am perfectly fine with it,” Murphy said. “I think it is a good idea. It is a very efficient use of resources. Personnel in general are our greatest asset and as a city our most expensive asset.”

The councilors were reacting to an announcement of an upcoming public discussion posted on the Northampton Police Department’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon. In the post, Police Chief Jody Kasper said she’d like to hear from residents about the potential installation of surveillance cameras before deciding whether to make a formal request. The department will host a community discussion Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St.

In a statement released early Friday, O’Donnell said that he wants Main Street to be what he has always known — a dynamic, free and open public place.

“Permanent municipal surveillance, no matter how well intentioned, takes us in the opposite direction,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said in an interview Friday that he hopes the proposal is withdrawn and a formal request is never made.

“There is a very high bar here for the mayor and the chief of police, who I believe are acting with excellent motivations at heart,” O’Donnell said. “They have a very high bar to show that something this extreme would be required in Northampton.”

Murphy believes cameras could help the department be more efficient, provide a record for accidents and give “a definitive answer” in a purse snatching or car crash.

“It’s very, very helpful all around and it’s public space,” Murphy said. “People have an expectation of privacy in some settings but when you are in a public park or in a public street, you don’t have that expectation of privacy.”

Kasper said Friday that the department has met with two camera companies and talked about potential infrastructure and how surveillance cameras may work in the community. She anticipates that next week’s discussion will center around whether the community wants to have surveillance cameras, rather than on the specific details of a proposed project.

In the Facebook post, Kasper wrote that the cameras could help reduce criminal behavior, harassment, improve pedestrian behavior and enhance traffic collision investigations. The cameras could also provide live monitoring “for the command center” during events such as First Night and the Pride march.

“I appreciate the sentiment behind it for public safety but think it is totally outweighed by the drawbacks,” O’Donnell said.

Walking Main Street Friday, Kasper said many people stopped to talk to her about the plan.

“Almost everyone I spoke with on Main Street was very supportive of it,” she said. “I certainly recognize, we need more voice than that.”

The use of footage from private and state surveillance camera played a role in the arrest of Anthony P. Baye, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to six counts of arson of a dwelling, five counts of attempted arson of a dwelling and more than 20 torched vehicles, as well as two counts of manslaughter. That arrest and use of surveillance was something both Murphy and Mayor David Narkewicz cited.

“We’ve had a crimes in the community where they have been able to in some cases, piece together, surveillance cameras,” Narkewicz said. “This is a piece of public safety infrastructure that exists in many communities.”

Narkewicz said he supported the chief but was also waiting to see the result of Wednesday’s discussion.

“I have great respect for the chief and she has done a number of really important things for the department and for the community so I really value her judgment on these things,” he said.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.


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