Camera Conversation Continues Monday at Public Hearing No. 2
By CASPAR EWIG
A Notice of Public Hearing published in “The Freeman’s Journal” on March 16 advises that at its meeting next Monday, March 27 at 7 p.m., the Cooperstown Board of Trustees will consider implementation of a policy covering the installation, operation and maintenance of stationary cameras in public places, as well as the use of images from those cameras.
A Short History
The need for, and desirability of, having cameras permitting the village to permanently record activities on public property is not without controversy. When cameras were first proposed by the board last fall, it was clear some trustees had serious reservations and that the concept needed to be well defined if it was to be implemented. A subcommittee was formed to draft a policy.
The resulting document was presented and discussed extensively at a public hearing held on November 28, 2022. At that time, members of the public and some trustees questioned whether the crime rate in Cooperstown had reached a level that would warrant such cameras. The response was that any system which could assist law enforcement officials in their duties was desirable and would provide protection for the community as a whole. One attendee at the hearing raised the concern that a camera recording system could act as a preemptive deterrent to a protester’s exercise of his or her civil rights, especially when paired with facial recognition technology. In answer to that concern, Police Chief Frank Cavalieri stated that facial recognition software was too expensive and Trustee Richard Sternberg emphasized the system was for documentation, and not surveillance, but agreed the issue should be kept open for further consideration.
At the end of the November public hearing, a motion to disapprove the entire concept of the camera policy was defeated, 2-4, with trustees MacGuire Benton and Joseph Membrino voting in favor and Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Deputy Mayor Cynthia Falk, and trustees Hanna Bergene and Sternberg opposed. A motion to reconsider and prepare a revised draft followed and a subcommittee of trustees Sternberg and Membrino and Deputy Mayor Falk was tasked with creating the new document to be presented at next Monday’s meeting in the Village Office Building, 22 Main Street.
The Draft Policy Proposal
The stated purpose of the “Policy for Installation, Operation, and Maintenance of Fixed-Location Cameras by the Cooperstown Police Department” is to codify practices and to “enhance public safety and assist in the deterrence and investigation of crime while preserving privacy and civil rights.”
Four fixed video-only cameras to be placed around the village are proposed. One on the traffic light at the intersection at Chestnut and Main streets directed east on Main; another near Pioneer Park directed east on Main Street and north/south on Pioneer Street; and a third at Main and Fair streets mounted on 22 Main Street and directed west on Main. These cameras would cover the length of Main Street between the traffic light and the library, as well as Pioneer Street from water’s edge to top of the hill by NBT Bank. The fourth camera would be installed on the Pioneer Street side of Lakefront Park, directed toward the village docks. The draft policy leaves open the possibility of installing additional cameras, based on data supporting the need for such additional sites and with approval from the Board of Trustees.
The cameras “may be used” for assistance in criminal and civil legal matters, to assist emergency workers, to aid in the search for missing children or adults, to provide information in police investigations, “to safeguard individual and police office rights” and for in-house police training.
As part of its statement of intent, the policy provides that the cameras are to act as supplementary tools to police investigations, and “therefore Camera images will not be actively monitored in real time.” Active monitoring by the Cooperstown Police Department or by persons designated by the Chief of Police is permitted, however, during special events involving the closure of Main Street or during crimes in progress or “other emergency affecting public health or safety.”
The cameras are to be deployed, operated, and maintained by the Cooperstown Police Department and, under the language of the policy, only persons designated and properly trained by the CPD would have access to the cameras themselves. Images captured by the cameras are defined as archived images, to be “stored for approximately 30 days, depending on the storage capacity of the server.” Thereafter, the size of the server determines the deletion policy.
Although the CPD is duty bound to keep the data of the images confidential, the policy permits a dissemination of reproductions of the images among village personnel or other arms of law enforcement, including requests pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law.
The draft language prohibits use of images in a manner that would result in an invasion of privacy, or in an illegal discrimination. A prohibition of using the images for purposes of harassment or intimidation contains a specific restriction of use against persons engaged in lawful demonstrations or protests, or against persons exercising their First Amendment rights.
The draft goes on to outline prohibited uses of the cameras and archived images in a manner that would result in an invasion of privacy and enforcement of same, auditing practices, and maintenance. A copy of the full draft policy can be obtained from Cooperstown Village Clerk Jenna Utter, firstname.lastname@example.org, prior to the hearing.