Park Security Cameras Are Turned Off While City Officials Deliberate Legal Concerns

Surveillance cameras will remain mounted throughout a park in Carlsbad, Calif., while police and other officials discuss privacy concerns, more.

SAN DIEGO – As many as 30 surveillance cameras installed for a pilot security project at Carlsbad’s new Alga Norte Community Park, located near here, have been switched off because of legal concerns, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

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The 32-acre park – the crown of the city’s park system – opened two years ago with a large aquatics center, ball fields, basketball courts, a skate park, a dog park, playgrounds, and picnic areas and more. The security cameras were included in the project’s $40 million price tag and went up during construction. Several of the devices were initially used as live Web cams, linked to the city Web site so residents could monitor the progress of the work, according to the newspaper.

The cameras remain mounted in key areas including the parking lots, skate park, swimming pools, playgrounds and other facilities, said Parks and Recreation Director Chris Hazeltine, but they have been turned off while a team of city employees studies how and whether they should be used. The team includes staff from the city’s parks, police, city attorney and IT departments.

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“It’s something we are grappling with, just as is every jurisdiction out there,” Hazeltine the U-T. “Things like who sees the footage and when, and how do you manage that.”

Among the key questions are privacy concerns and how long the city would need to store the digital video recorded by the cameras, he said. Carlsbad Senior Assistant City Attorney Paul Edmonson said public records law requires the city to keep any recordings it makes for a least a year. The amount of computer storage needed to retain the video from all the cameras could be a problem for the city.

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“This is another example of where technology gets out in front of policy and the law,” Hazeltine said. Some cameras the city had installed at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park also have been turned off.

Oceanside City Attorney John Mullen said Oceanside does not use surveillance cameras in its parks, though there are a few cameras in the city’s jail and public parking garage.

The parking garage video is only stored briefly, he said, although a recording was recently used in the prosecution of some vandals. The jail’s holding cell video is stored for a year, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union advises caution when using video surveillance in public places.

“The ACLU does not oppose placing cameras at specific, high-profile public places that are potential terrorist targets, such as the U.S. Capitol,” according to the ACLU Web site. “But the impulse to blanket our public spaces and streets with video surveillance is a bad idea. The growing presence of cameras will create chilling effects that bring subtle but profound changes to the character of our public spaces.”

Video surveillance is sometimes ineffective, can be susceptible to abuse, and requires limits or controls, the ACLU states.

Carlsbad budget documents show that the security cameras for the Alga Norte park were one of the City Council’s pilot projects in the 2013-14 operating budget, with police Lt. Jeff Chapman as the project’s leader, and with funding for that item to be determined later.

Police Spokeswoman Jodee Sasway told the U-T the video can be a valuable asset to police.

“Cameras provide an extra set of eyes and can enhance surveillance,” Sasway said in an E-mail response to questions about surveillance cameras.

The cameras can provide “a real-time view of a remote location” that officers could not otherwise see, she said.

Drawbacks to security cameras sometimes include “a false sense of security if users believe only perfect images will be captured and if users felt they are a cure-all,” Sasway said. Variables such as lighting, color and glare have an effect, and sometimes an awareness of a camera can affect a person’s behavior.

She said whether the cameras are needed could only be answered by an analysis of each individual park.

“There are many variables that go into an analysis, like crime rate, hours of operation and park amenities,” Sasway said.

Mayor Matt Hall said at a recent Carlsbad City Council meeting that he was disappointed the park’s surveillance cameras were not being used, the newspaper reports.

“It’s not only the tens of millions of dollars we have invested there,” Hall said. “It’s also how crazy the world is.”

City Attorney Celia Brewer responded that the city’s team is working to establish a set of procedures for the storage of surveillance camera data and who would have access to it.

“It’s an area where the law is changing,” said interim City Manager Kathy Dodson.

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