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City surveillance: Crime deterrent or invasion of privacy?



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SANDY -- High-tech surveillance networks are providing police and government with the ability to monitor streets, parks and businesses like never before. Police in Sandy have such a system and call it a deterrent to crime. Still, others say it's an invasion of privacy.

The skate facility at Lone Peak Park is an outlet for youthful energy. But sometimes it is also the site of problems like bullying, trespassing, and drugs and alcohol. Recently, Sandy City added something new to help keep watch.

Cameras installed at a skate park have helped police catch underage drinkers, trespassers and bullies
Cameras installed at a skate park have helped police catch underage drinkers, trespassers and bullies

"Just extra eyes and ears, like we ask the public to be," explained Sandy police Sgt. Justin Chapman.

Those "eyes" caught a skater taking a beer from his trunk, pouring it into a container and heading off to skate. An officer was called, and the skater was busted.

Later, a man was cuffed for interfering with the police interview. The whole scene was captured on tape.

"It gives the opportunity, again, to cover a lot of area rather quickly; to cover spots that may be problematic," Chapman said.

Sandy now covers a quarter of its public spaces with a new state-of-the-art, $400,000, wireless video network. Most of it is paid for by a federal grant.

The cameras are installed in high-traffic locations around the city of Sandy
The cameras are installed in high-traffic locations around the city of Sandy

There are 15 cameras; six of them movable. Much of the time, the system is monitored by citizen volunteers like Bill Dunlap, who says more cameras add police presence, limiting crime.

"You take away their anonymity and their ability to do something without being watched," Dunlap said.

Police said the system has helped them solve who was at fault in a car accident, corroborate the whereabouts of a runaway and nab a man who staked out a parking lot at Jordan Commons and stole something from an SUV. An officer arrived to find him hiding behind a car.

"It's a very good workforce multiplier for us to have that many cameras," Chapman said.

Still, watchdog groups worry about the public's right to privacy and wonder if the system, despite assurances, could be abused.

Marina Lowe, staff attorney for the ACLU, said she has concerns about profiling, training, how the video is used, and about cameras doing things like tracking perfectly legal protests.

Camera's helped police catch a burglary suspect hiding behind a car at Jordan Commons
Camera's helped police catch a burglary suspect hiding behind a car at Jordan Commons

"Americans value their privacy; and while we don't enjoy the same privacy out on the public streets as we do in our own homes, there's a feeling that that's not the way that we live in this country -- to have ‘Big Brother' always following us," Lowe said.

She was surprised by the quality and power of Sandy's cameras, which can zoom in to see people up close. The video can then be saved for two months.

The manufacturer says private homes can be masked out so they're not seen.

"Our basic goal is to make the public a safer place," said Andy Schreyer, sales manager for Firetide, Inc.

Sandy police say the cameras will also be used to do things like monitor streets and plows during storms.

"It's not a tool we use for spying or other activities; they're all in public locations," Chapman said.

Firetide, Inc. said the networks are being used for security at big events like political conventions, the Super Bowl and the Olympics. The company also told KSL News the Utah Transit Authority UTA is considering such a system for TRAX stops and parking lots.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

John Daley

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