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Northampton City Meeting Discusses Downtown Surveillance Cameras

(Jong Man Kim/ Daily Collegian)

Over 100 residents and officials met at the Northampton Senior Center Wednesday night to discuss a proposal to place surveillance cameras in the city’s downtown area.

The meeting began with a presentation from Northampton Chief of Police Jody Kasper, who proposed the use of the city’s capital improvement funds for the project.

In a Facebook post on Sept. 7, the Northampton Police Department stated that their “overall goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of police services.” The post went on to list the reduction of criminal behavior, improved pedestrian behavior and the live monitoring of Main Street for additional police coverage.

“The police love to talk about safety,” said Rachel Weber, a Northampton resident. “Whose safety are they talking about?”

Weber, like many audience members, said she sees the use of cameras in a public setting as violation of privacy, susceptible to abuse by law enforcement. She held a sign simply stating the word “No” in response to the proposal, alongside fellow activists.

In her presentation, Chief Kasper supported her argument by pointing to a number of cases she believes could have been solved with the help of surveillance cameras. Cases included those of assault, home invasions and armed robbery. Many storefronts in Northampton have their own surveillance cameras, and footage is often submitted to law enforcement as evidence in cases of robbery or assault, according to Kasper. But many of those cameras are out-of-date and the process for getting their footage is often difficult.

For most of the residents attending the meeting, the answer to the question of additional police surveillance was simple. “Nothing would make me feel less safe than increased police,” said one audience member, voicing concern of police behavior evident in recent national news. She continued, “We should spend more money making people safer by investing in the community.”

Many in the audience applauded the notion of community investment as a successful tool that the police should take greater advantage of than they currently do.

The police department appointed community outreach and liaison officers in 2015 to strengthen the relationship with the citizens they serve, according to an archived press release. The officers serve the downtown Northampton area and “are familiar faces downtown,” according to the same release.

For many attendees of the event, concerns were primarily based on the potential for the abuse of surveillance footage by law enforcement officers, especially those from national agencies that may be able to gain access to the footage.

According to Kasper, it is unclear about whether federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be able to view footage from cameras like the ones in the proposal, or whether such footage would be available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. Kasper shared that she is currently seeking an answer from state authorities.

One audience member stated that he was “incredibly appalled that this so-called progressive and diverse community is becoming ‘1984,’” in reference to the George Orwell novel that centered on the concept of “Big Brother” government surveillance.

“Extraordinary government action should require extraordinary government truth,” another audience member said. She spoke on what she viewed as the secretive nature of what would happen with the footage.

“People came really energized,” said Kasper after the discussion. “It was a great way for them to share their thoughts and their opinions and concerns with me…We were here to listen.”

“I applaud the chief for holding [the meeting], for having an open forum for the community to come in and give their feedback for the idea,” said Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz after the event.

While the next step for the proposal is still unclear, Kasper and Narkewicz both say they plan on discussing the plan thoroughly after what they heard tonight.

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Northampton City Meeting Discusses Downtown Surveillance Cameras”
  1. Paul Borneo says:

    I was at the meeting – after an hour and a half of hearing citizens say that they do not want these cameras I asked the chief what her take away was from the town’s reaction – she said it was complicated… and wouldn’t acknowledge our obvious concerns.

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