Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

With an eye on surveillance cameras, Tampa bans electronic 'peeping'

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TAMPA — The City Council moved Thursday to safeguard residents' privacy by preventing police from using new downtown surveillance cameras to peek into people's homes.

In a unanimous vote, the council expanded what in the past has been known as the city's "window peeping" law.

If approved at a second vote Dec. 20, the law would ban anyone, police included, from using a camera to secretly record someone in an indoor area out of public view.

Police Chief Jane Castor didn't oppose the ordinance but said the cameras, which mostly are mounted on 25-foot poles, are focused on public areas of downtown.

"These cameras are all aimed at the street level," she said. "They're not aimed at anyone's windows. There's no looking into private areas."

Castor estimated there would probably be less than a dozen officers authorized to use the system, and all would be held to a "very high standard."

Still, the council also voted to hold a workshop to discuss the city's experience with the cameras next Aug. 29.

Starting late next year, city officials say it will cost $164,000 annually to maintain them and $21,000 to license the system's radio gear.

It is before that vote that several council members believe they could have the most leverage on whether to continue to use the 119 cameras, which were purchased for August's Republican National Convention.

While council member Mary Mulhern said cities like London, New York and Chicago use them extensively, "I haven't heard the case for having this many surveillance cameras permanently in the city."

Castor said she could make that case. As an example, she offered the Nov. 1 attack in the Fort Brooke city parking garage during which police say a homeless man grabbed, dragged, punched and fondled a 63-year-old woman.

The new cameras helped police spot the suspect, who was wearing a torn T-shirt. They showed him throwing away the shirt and later helped officers find and arrest him at a city park, Castor said.

"We probably would not have caught that individual had we not had those camera systems," she said.

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