Rutland to talk surveillance
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | February 07,2013
Surveillance cameras have entered Rutland’s crime debate.
The Board of Aldermen will discuss the idea of using cameras to monitor the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. A local landlord brought the notion to the board Monday night after one of his properties was the site of a home invasion.
Cam Johnston, owner of 110 Maple St., has been in front of the board several times in recent weeks complaining about proposed or existing city policies he believes infringe on private property rights. He said that he believed there was a “strong distinction” between private and public property and has no problem with cameras monitoring people walking down the street.
Johnston suggested that the area around Maple and Pine streets might serve as a test case in using cameras in crime reduction. He urged the board to pursue grants that might fund such a program — an opportunity he said Bellows Falls missed.
In 2005 and 2006, officials in Bellows Falls discussed using a $98,000 federal grant to place security cameras around town in an effort to combat vandalism and other crimes. The village trustees abandoned the proposal after a fierce public backlash.
In Rutland the issue was referred to the Public Safety Committee with almost no debate Monday. Alderman Christopher Robinson, who made the motion to refer, said he did not think he agreed with the proposal but a discussion would not hurt. Alderman Christopher Siliski said there was potential for it to be a good idea, but he needed to see relevant research.
City Police Chief James Baker said in an interview that a surveillance program in residential areas would have to be a community decision and that he would want to hear from the community before weighing in.
But he noted the city already had a number of privately owned security cameras around businesses. He said vandalism around the downtown train station dropped after cameras were installed there.
“They’re very helpful in solving crime and they’re often very helpful in preventing crime,” Baker said. “It does force-multiply. ... I’m a big fan of public places like parking lots, banks — the federal courthouse has them.”
However, the chief said putting cameras in residential areas is “an entirely different discussion.”
Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said any effort to bring greater security comes with a trade-off.
“When you lock your house every day to go to work, you’re giving up the convenience of not having to carry a key ... in exchange for the security of believing you’re not going to have your house broken into,” he said.
So what might Rutland residents be giving up?
“There are hundreds of private things that we all do every day that you’re going to think of in a slightly different way when you know you are being monitored and a permanent digital record is being made,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said that while many Vermont businesses have security cameras, and about 30 law enforcement agencies in the state use vehicle-mounted cameras, he was not aware of any Vermont towns using fixed cameras in residential neighborhoods.