Columnist Jody D. Kasper seeks collaboration on cameras

  • Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper, left, responds during a public meeting Sept. 13 at the Senior Center to discuss the use of surveillance cameras downtown.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 9/20/2017 8:11:36 PM

Over the past few months the Northampton Police Department (NPD) has been researching municipally owned cameras, assessing our existing infrastructure and considering how downtown cameras could enhance the services that our department provides.

Last week we hosted a public forum to share an overview of this topic and to solicit community feedback. With the public forum behind us, and after engaging in many conversations, I share my perspective.

I have been a police officer for 20 years and I have seen countless cases solved with cameras. Many community members recall Anthony Baye’s arson spree and murder of two residents, the recent multistate human trafficking network that we dismantled, and the May robbery of TD Bank.

In addition to these high-profile cases, we have had countless thefts, robberies, vandalisms, and assaults where camera evidence was vital. While some of these cases may not make the headlines, they have a real and direct impact on our community.

This is not a question of whether or not we should we have cameras in Northampton; we already have them. We use mobile cameras in our primary line cruisers, temporary cameras to assist with criminal investigations, and fixed cameras on our city parking garage and police building. This network plays a vital role in investigations and large event security and safety such as First Night. It has been used to help identify witnesses and offenders, to build a timeline of events, to support or disprove what occurred and to aid in the collection of forensic evidence.

Using a patchwork of mobile cameras, temporary cameras, and privately owned cameras, our officers have solved countless crimes in our community. Unfortunately, relying on private cameras to solve crimes is not a sustainable model and often fails to yield useful evidence.

Some have raised concerns that cameras could disproportionally affect marginalized members of our community or that federal agencies could access the system to target immigrants. I’ve never seen our camera systems misused in this manner. We take the equal treatment and privacy of our citizens seriously. We work to ensure that the tremendous amount of private and confidential information that we have access to is protected. Our cameras are used solely to solve crimes.

Surveillance camera evidence has often solved or provided critical information in some of the most heinous cases in our region. Anyone who has watched the news, followed police departments on social media, or sat on a jury, has likely seen surveillance footage and understands the value that these images provide.

After listening to a variety of views on this topic, I feel compelled to encourage us as a community to move forward and look at how camera technology could work in Northampton’s public spaces downtown. There is a reason that cameras are so commonly used in cities and towns across the commonwealth, country and world.

I value the feedback I received at the community discussion and beyond. We listened. Using that feedback, we can envision the use of cameras in downtown that does not focus on sidewalks or pedestrian activity, and instead focuses on our major downtown traffic intersections.

So much of the success that we see with cameras involves our ability to use witness descriptions of individuals and vehicles and to later identify subjects on camera before or after they committed the crime. Limiting camera use to traffic intersections would substantially reduce the cost.

I’m confident that a detailed plan and policy could be created with an emphasis on protecting each and every member of our community, while still supporting investigative efforts. Effective training, limited system access, password protection, and brief retention of footage would address a number of concerns that have been raised.

The members of NPD are committed to working to best assist the victims who seek our help. It is critically important that we continue this conversation and work together to identify potential options. I would welcome the opportunity to work with a committee comprised of police, elected leaders, and city residents to collaborate on this proposed project.

Our united goal is the safety of our community members and I remain optimistic that we can work in collaboration on this proposal. I continue to see cases supported and solved with camera technology in our community and beyond.

It is clear to me that the use of cameras in specific locations would provide an invaluable investigative tool to our police department and would allow us to more efficiently and effectively solve and prevent crimes.

Jody D. Kasper is chief of the Northampton Police Department.


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