NYCLU, Community Advocates Question Common Council Vote on Surveillance Plan

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
November 22, 2010 12:00 am

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SYRACUSE, NY – The Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and partners in the United as One Coalition today called on the Syracuse Common Council to postpone a scheduled vote on proposals to install 24-hour police surveillance cameras in two city neighborhoods until it addresses concerns about privacy and transparency.

“The Common Council should not move to vote on these proposals before the Police Department has finalized its draft policy that will be the only mechanism limiting the use of surveillance cameras in Syracuse,” said Chapter Director Barrie Gewanter. “To vote on these proposals without first releasing and holding a public discussion about the actual text of this policy would be an affront to the principle of open government.”

In September, the Police Department presented the Common Council with a proposal to spend a $125,000 federal grant to install nine surveillance cameras in the Near West Side neighborhood as a crime-prevention measure. The proposal was termed a “pilot program.” Police officials have stated that they would like to utilize surveillance cameras in neighborhoods all over Syracuse. A day after a public hearing about the Near West Side proposal, the Police Department requested the Common Council’s permission to accept an additional $84,000 in Homeland Security funds to install five more surveillance cameras at Pioneer Homes, a public housing project near Syracuse University.

The Common Council is scheduled to vote on both proposals during a meeting today.

Advocates from the Central New York Chapter, the Syracuse Peace Council, the Alchemical Nursery and a Latino community organization urged the council to table the issue until:

  • The Police Department has made the full text of its policy that will govern the use of surveillance cameras available to the public. There should then be a public meeting so that concerned residents throughout the city will have an opportunity to comment on a draft of the policy and suggest revisions.
  • It is clear that placement of cameras in the Near West Side truly will be a “pilot program” with an end date and a transparent mechanism for evaluating it that will incorporate public input.
  • The Police Department and Common Council make clear what other strategies the city is currently or intends to pursue to deal with the tragic increase in gun violence in the city.

“Placing surveillance cameras in low-income neighborhoods of color will not stop the recent surge in gun violence,” Gewanter said. “Police surveillance cameras do not deter or prevent violent crime, so before moving ahead with these proposals, city leaders should demonstrate that they are also considering other law enforcement and community-based strategies that are more likely to reduce violent crime.”

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