The Salt Lake City Police Department unveiled new cameras in Pioneer Park Wednesday. Perched on tall black poles on all four sides of the 10-acre park, the white cameras can record park activity 24 hours per day, uploading images to an Internet site. Police can also actively monitor the system, moving cameras lenses to zoom in on suspected criminal activity. Police Chief Chris Burbank told a gaggle of TV news cameras the Website was secured so only the police could look at the images.
Police Chief Chris Burbank said the cameras would preserve evidence for court cases and act as a crime deterrent. More visible than the cameras are new signs that warn park users they are being filmed. The camera system will be evaluated at the end of the summer to determine if it will be continued.
Cameras in the park were suggested during the 2007 mayoral campaign by former-City Councilman Dave Buhler. Now-mayor Ralph Becker initially backed the idea only as interim measure, telling a candidate forum he would approve park cameras only on “a very short term basis.” Becker gave stronger endorsements of the idea following a park stabbing.
Burbank said his department thought through potential civil rights implications of filming the public, but added that being videotaped, “is a part of our daily lives now.” He said the SLPD had shared proposed camera-use policies with the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Those policies say the SLPD won’t store images, which will be automatically erased after seven days unless needed for prosecution. Burbank said police “will not be using the system to monitor free-speech activities.” (The park has been home to protests, including anti-President Bush rallies led by former-Mayor Rocky Anderson.) The Chief said homeless would continue to have access to the park. The SLPD’s policies for use of the cameras can be found here.
The ACLU of Utah appreciated the SLPD sharing information on the cameras, but reacted negatively. The ACLU wrote cameras have a “chilling impact on First-Amendment protected activity” such as protests. It took exception to parts of the SLPD camera-use policy, noting, for example, the policy did not spell out which agencies outside of the SLPD would be given access to camera images. The ACLU’s response can be read here.
Burbank promised that park-goers won’t find pictures of themselves appearing on reality cop shows. One TV reporter wanted to know what would prevent news organizations requesting copies of park images under Utah’s open-records law. Burbank paused before saying the images withheld in the name of “privacy.” The Chief said he was reluctant to install cameras in the Park, but did so out of desperation: Nothing else police have tried has succeeded in ridding the park of drug trafficking. During Wednesday’s press conference held on the park outskirts Pioneer Park was completely deserted. One man wearing a blanket wandered over to the grouping of police and held his hands in the air as if surrendering. He was politely told now was not the time.