Three Northampton councilors object to camera surveillance plan

  • Northampton Poilce Chief Jody Kasper speaks at a community discussion Wednesday about the possibility of installing surveillance cameras downtown. Three Northampton city councilors object to the idea and have drafted legislation to stop it. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton Poilce Chief Jody Kasper speaks at a community discussion Wednesday about the possibility of installing surveillance cameras downtown. Three Northampton city councilors object to the idea and have drafted legislation to stop it. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

@kate_ashworth
Published: 9/15/2017 10:47:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Three city councilors are backing a resolution and ordinance against the use of municipal surveillance cameras in downtown, an idea the city’s police department is considering in order to be more effective and efficient in combating problems.

The council’s president and vice president, William Dwight and Ryan O’Donnell, and Ward 7’s Alisa Klein are recommending an ordinance that prohibits the use of surveillance technology on a fixed location on public or municipal property in the central business district for more than one day. It does not apply to the municipal parking garage, where cameras are already in place.

The resolution states that while video footage is often used to identify suspects after a crime, research strongly suggests that surveillance cameras do not effectively deter crime.

“Surveillance has been shown to alter legitimate, non-criminal behavior and produce a chilling effect on free expression,” the resolution states. “Surveillance can lead to diminished public trust in law enforcement, conflicting with the trust built by Northampton’s community policing efforts.”

The City Council will discuss both items at Thursday’s meeting at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers. The resolution will be up for a vote, but the ordinance needs to go through legal review before a vote is made.

O’Donnell said that the surveillance cameras are not a necessity and the work can be done through community policing. He said with Northampton’s size and amount of crime, there’s no need for cameras.

“We don’t live in Gotham City,” said O’Donnell, referring to New York City’s nickname in Batman comics and movies.

Klein added that there could be a lot of hidden costs associated with the surveillance technology, such as upgrades and repairs.

“I think we are setting ourselves up for costs for the city that is far more than the stated initial costs,” Klein said.

Klein also has social justice and civil liberties concerns. If cameras were put in, impoverished people and people of color could be affected the most, she said.

Dwight said the tipping point for him is that the footage could be accessed by federal authorities as well as others.

“When you establish policy, it survives the good people and it is available to the bad people if they assume office,” Dwight said.

Police Chief Jody Kasper held a community discussion on Thursday to get the public’s opinion on surveillance cameras in the city. She said the biggest point made was the concerns with outside agencies accessing the footage.

Kasper said there needs to be further discussion on whether Northampton is a community that wants surveillance cameras.

“There’s certainly lots of things to think about,” Kasper said.

Ward 3 Councilor James Nash said he does not support placing surveillance cameras downtown, but doesn’t want to rule out the idea in the future. He said there’s a broader discussion to be had about surveillance technology.

“I was super impressed by the discussion led by Chief Kasper,” Nash said. “I believe that her intentions right now are to keep us safe and not intrude on our privacy.”

Other councilors want more time to research the subject and more public input before any decisions are made.

Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell said he is undecided on whether Northampton should install surveillance cameras. Before the city makes a decision, he said research should be done to weigh the pros and cons, and the city should learn from the experience of other communities with surveillance cameras.

“It’s premature to be rushing to judgment,” Bidwell said.

Ward 4 Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra said in statement that she hopes for further opportunity for public input on the matter.

“I greatly appreciate that Chief Kasper wanted to begin a discussion about downtown cameras directly with the community first, before considering a proposal for the capital improvement plan,” Sciarra wrote. “It is imperative that the Northampton community have opportunities to express their opinions about something that would be implemented in the public realm.”

Ward 5’s David A. Murphy could not be reached for comment Friday, though prior to this week’s community meeting told the Gazette he supported the idea of cameras downtown.

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


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