Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa writing rules for future use of RNC surveillance cameras

TAMPA — No electronic peeping into windows. Controls to track what any given officer watches. Strict oversight by top police brass. Regular purging of the video archives.

These are some of the proposed rules the City Council will discuss today for a $2 million network of surveillance cameras originally purchased for security at the Republican National Convention.

"We want the council and the community to understand what a valuable asset these cameras are and also to be confident that they'll be used appropriately," police Chief Jane Castor said Wednesday.

Police and city attorneys have worked on the rules in response to a City Council vote in October asking for an ordinance regulating police use of the cameras.

Tampa used part of a $50 million federal security grant to buy the cameras for the RNC in August. The city ended up with a total of 119 new cameras, 78 of them focused on downtown. The rest are being used at police headquarters or are mounted on trailers that can be moved. Before the convention, the city already had 12 surveillance cameras in Ybor City.

In response to the council's vote, city attorneys propose to expand an existing ban on "window peeping."

As proposed, no one could use a camera "or any other image-recording device" to secretly record anyone who was inside a building and in an area out of public view without their consent.

That's not all. Police also have given council members a draft of a three-page policy regulating the use of the cameras.

Police propose that the cameras be controlled by the agency's criminal intelligence bureau under the direct supervision of the chief of police.

No system resources, like the cameras mounted on trailers, could be used without the approval of criminal intelligence command staff. In addition, anyone using the system would have to be issued a unique user name and password. The system tracks what each user looks at, so there is a record if someone uses the system for non-police business.

The proposed policy says the criminal intelligence bureau would have to authorize any live monitoring of the cameras, except:

• In Ybor City, where the city's cameras on Seventh Avenue are monitored Thursday through Saturday nights and on special occasions as staffing permits.

• At police headquarters and during training or demonstrations of the system.

• During special events such as the Gasparilla pirate invasion and parade.

• During "directed patrol" efforts, such as when a camera overlooks a parking lot that has had a rash of auto burglaries.

Under the policy, police would retain video for at least 30 days. After that, files would be released to be used again unless they were being saved as evidence. Except for evidence, no video would be retained for more than 120 days.

Council member Mike Suarez has told police that he trusts them, but he owes the public a "higher duty" to make sure the cameras are not abused. On Wednesday, he said the draft policy "addresses it to an extent that I'm comfortable with."

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is still leery of the cameras' potential for invading people's privacy.

"The bottom line is we don't think the cameras should be there, and we think the City Council should exercise its legislative power and enact an ordinance that eliminates the use of the cameras," said Yvette Acosta MacMillan, staff attorney for the ACLU's mid-Florida regional office.

That's likely easier said than done. Tampa's City Charter clearly defines the powers of the mayor and council. It gives the council no authority to tell the mayor how to run any department or what to do with any piece of city property.

Still, several council members said Wednesday that they want to weigh in more fully on the policy implications of the cameras.

"I'm going to investigate if there are any other legal options for us to have a say about that," council member Mary Mulhern said.

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