Published December 26. 2013 4:00AM
Norwich - The idea of a series of surveillance cameras monitoring public areas was unnerving to some when it was first proposed in the Greeneville area more than a year ago.
But those cameras have been there for a year, and a dozen new cameras now watch the daily goings-on in the downtown area.
There have been few complaints, according to police, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut says the police department appears to have taken appropriate measures to protect citizens' rights with their recently released usage policy.
The newest cameras were installed by Norwich Public Utilities earlier this month above Franklin, Main and Boswell streets and at Franklin Square and Howard Brown Park. They are linked to police department headquarters by the utility's fiber optic lines, which were installed throughout the city as part of the municipal area network to support the utility's own high speed and broadband systems.
The department's policy, still in its draft form, says the cameras are to be used solely for overt monitoring of public areas, "where no reasonable expectation for privacy exists." The policy is available on the city's website and outlines procedures for their use and storage of the video from the 16 cameras now in place. Police say they plan to keep recordings for 30 days before being destroyed unless the video is to be used as part of an investigation or prosecution.
"This policy is a solid one," said ACLU staff attorney David McGuire. "It really is great that the department is recognizing the potential privacy ramifications of the system. The 30-day retention period is absolutely key and prevents a massive buildup of data."
Norwich Police Capt. Patrick Daley said the intent of the cameras is to help solve crimes, perhaps even deter them. The four cameras that were strategically placed in Greene ville more than a year ago, he said, have in some ways helped to clean up an area that residents say hosted drug dealing and prostitution.
"You can see the change when you drive through," Daley said.
Daley refers to the cameras as a "force multiplier," which coincides with a community policing program that has three teams of two officers situated in targeted locations across town. Daley said the department has already used cameras in Greeneville in several cases, including a narcotics investigation and a motor vehicle accident.
Daley said the cameras cannot be used for traffic enforcement since state law does not allow it. McGuire said the ACLU has consistently fought efforts of the legislature to introduce red light cameras that can read license plate numbers and issue tickets.
Emergency dispatchers and detectives are the only ones with immediate access to the monitors linked to the cameras.
The 12 new cameras, all with the ability to tilt and pan, were paid for through a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant.
Money has become increasingly available to municipalities for surveillance, McGuire said, and with the relatively inexpensive new technology, more departments are using cameras. They come with dangers of misuse, something more Americans are realizing with revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.
An important aspect of any policy at the municipal level is to ensure proper training and to keep logs that show who accessed the video and why it was accessed to ensure it was strictly for law-enforcement purposes, he said.
"With the technology available today there are cameras with the ability to track people," McGuire said. "Some even have infrared options."
Those kinds of technological advances bring with them more opportunities for abuse.
"We're trying to be transparent as possible," Daley said. "We're cognizant of the fact people are suspicious of cameras. It's a pretty clear policy showing the cameras will be used for legitimate purposes and not to abuse civil liberties."
New London has several, mostly outdated, cameras monitoring the waterfront and are in the early stages of exploring what areas need coverage or deserve better coverage, said New London Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard.
Reichard said he has visited a few sites across the state and talked with one company that has done projects in Bridgeport, Manchester and Madison, among other places.