Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How to use surveillance cameras bought for Republican National Convention?

In Tampa, surveillance cameras purchased for the Republican National Convention remain atop 25-foot poles, watching downtown streets.

In St. Petersburg, they sit in boxes, waiting a decision on their future.

But on both sides of Tampa Bay, city council members want a say in a policy discussion that ranges from crime-fighting to privacy rights to public spending.

Thursday, the Tampa City Council voted 6-1 to ask its attorney to look into an ordinance to regulate police use of the cameras.

"We have to trust you, and we do," council member Mike Suarez told police Chief Jane Castor. "But I do believe the public is owed a higher duty by us to show that the cameras are not abused."

The problem is, Tampa's City Charter clearly defines the roles of the mayor and the City Council, and it gives the council no authority to tell the mayor how to run any city department or what to do with any piece of city property. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has made it clear he plans to keep the cameras where they are so that downtown stays safe as it grows and becomes more active.

Still, council members said the cameras have the potential to erode privacy and could lead to unintended consequences.

For example, one said, what if a stalker wants to see the city's video — a public record — for the comings and goings on a particular sidewalk?

In St. Petersburg, the council, police and city staff members are scheduled on Nov. 8 to talk about what will come of the 26 cameras the city bought for nearly $263,000.

For now, the cameras are not operating. Police spokesman Mike Puetz said his understanding is they were taken down shortly after the RNC.

"We're just waiting for further discussion with the mayor and council," he said.

Some St. Petersburg council members have already made it clear they want the cameras to go into high-crime neighborhoods.

"That would go a long way to removing a choke hold off those areas," said Councilman Wengay Newton, who said there are areas of the city that have had a reputation for years as "open-air drug markets."

"Maybe it would get those places some relief," he said.

In Tampa, the city used $2 million from a $50 million federal grant to buy the cameras for the RNC. The city bought a total of 119 cameras, 78 of which are deployed downtown. The rest are being used at police headquarters or are mounted on trailers that can be moved from place to place.

The cameras come with free maintenance for a year. But starting next year, city officials say it will cost $164,000 a year to maintain the cameras and $21,000 to license the system's radio gear.

Since the convention, the cameras have continued to record what happens in front of them, though they are not actively monitored. Police keep the images for 30 days. Video from the week of the convention is being kept for four years.

Castor said the city could keep the cameras on, could monitor them for big events that bring a lot of people downtown or could monitor them actively — something that would cost a lot and require a lot of personnel.

Castor said the Tampa Police Department already has policies to prevent abuse.

This week, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said officers got stern warnings before the RNC about misusing the cameras. The system not only keeps a record of who controls a particular camera, but also records what he or she looks at. So police were told that if they zoomed in on a woman in a bikini, for instance, the chief would know about it.

What the city should not do, Castor said, is move the cameras to other parts of town — an idea raised by several council members. Moving a camera outside the electronic network created in downtown could cost at least $34,000. It might make more sense just to buy more cameras for those areas, Castor said.

Two weeks ago, when council members convened a long-scheduled discussion on the cameras, neither Castor nor City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. showed up. On Thursday, both apologized, saying they didn't realize their presence was expected and said no snub was intended.

Council member Mary Mulhern cast the only vote against looking into the ordinance. She voted against buying the cameras in the first place and said the city should get rid of them.

"No one presented a case to us that these are necessary," she said.

"We don't need to do a study; the studies are done," Mulhern said, citing research done elsewhere, notably London, which has a lot of security cameras. "These cameras do not deter crime. ... If you put a camera up, all it does is cause the crime to go somewhere else."

Council members voted to get a report back on an ordinance from their attorney on Dec. 6.

Afterward, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said the council members are doing the right thing.

"The position of the ACLU is we don't think these cameras are necessary and we would like to see them gone," the ACLU's Mike Pheneger said. "But if they're going to stay, then we think the council has been very responsible and very concerned about the privacy interests associated with these cameras."

How to use surveillance cameras bought for Republican National Convention? 10/04/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 11:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Manhattan Casino controversy resumes after taking a break for Irma

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration has once again found itself defending its controversial choice of the Callaloo Group to open a "Floribbean" restaurant in the historic but currently empty Manhattan Casino.

  2. At Menorah Manor, planning paid off during Irma

    Nursing Homes

    ST. PETERSBURG — Doris Rosenblatt and her husband, Frank, have lived in Florida all of their lives, so they know about hurricanes.

    Raisa Collins, 9, far left, works on a craft project as Certified Nursing Assistant Shuntal Anthony holds Cassidy Merrill, 1, while pouring glue for Quanniyah Brownlee, 9, right, at Menorah Manor in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15. To help keep its patients safe during Hurricane Irma, Menorah Manor allowed employees to shelter their families and pets at the nursing home and also offered daycare through the week. The facility was able to accommodate and feed everyone who weathered the storm there. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. Carlton: The cross atop the church that moved, and other strange tales from Hurricane Irma

    Hurricanes

    Down in Miami, the famous tan-don't-burn Coppertone Girl on the side of a building lost her head — part of it, at least, the top of her blond hair lopped off in the fierce winds of Hurricane Irma. ("At least her tan line and doggie weathered the storm," the Miami Herald noted optimistically.)

    Hurricane Irma partly decapitated the Coppertone Girl in Miami. [Miami Herald]
  4. After Irma, nursing homes scramble to meet a hard deadline

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities find themselves in an unfamiliar place this week — pushing back against Gov. Rick Scott's administration over new rules that require them to purchase generator capacity by Nov. 15 to keep their residents safe and comfortable in a power …

    In this Sept. 13 photo, a woman is transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients are evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma in Hollywood. Nine have died and patients had to be moved out of the facility, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation to figure out what went wrong and who, if anyone, was to blame. [Amy Beth Bennett | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP]