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Northampton City Council votes against surveillance cameras

(City of Northampton/ Facebook)

Northampton is one step closer to preventing the placement of surveillance cameras in its downtown district.

At a city council meeting on Thursday, local residents and activists spoke out against a measure that would place two police cameras in Northampton’s busy commercial district downtown. The meeting saw the second vote to pass a resolution “Opposing the Installation of Municipally-Operated Surveillance Technology Downtown.” As per city rules, the resolution required a second vote in its favor in order to pass—with the result being 7-2 in favor both times.

“The city council has figured out where it stands, and is expressing itself through the slow process of government,” said Northampton resident and anti-camera advocate Dana Goldblatt, who has attended meetings since the proposal for cameras was first made in September. “It’s been great to watch.”

Audience members and the majority of city councilors seemed to be in sync in their disapproval of the cameras, with concerns over the cameras’ potential use to target the homeless, the use of public funds to provide security to private businesses, and the overall $83,000 price tag of the project as central components to their argument against the measure.

Though the Northampton Police Department originally proposed the idea for the cameras in a public discussion in September, Goldblatt says the process has fallen into the hands of the city’s legislators—a fact she believes to represent government working as it should.

“I think that’s sort of appropriate, that the police department is simply responding to what the council is doing,” said Goldblatt, further explaining that the department’s responsibilities entail responding to government instruction, rather than instituting their own policies without instruction.

While the expectation was that the biweekly city council meeting would easily pass the resolution, several residents took to the microphone in a period allotted for public comments at the beginning of the meeting.

Though subjects ranging from a newly-proposed “death with dignity” bill to a city condemnation of increasing militarism in the United States were addressed by audience members, the culmination of two months of opposition to the surveillance cameras made it one of the primary focuses for the evening.

Community members addressed the surveillance cameras and the other issues in their public comments, some choosing to focus on only one issue, but others speaking on all three.

“No cameras, no nukes, and I wanna go when I wanna go,” said Carolyn Oppenheimer, a city resident, with some succinctness.

Other residents made it a focal point of their comments to clarify that their misgivings toward the cameras were not directed toward the police department. Goldblatt and fellow resident Amy Bookbinder, who has also been an attendee to many of the city’s meetings on the surveillance cameras, both emphasized that fact.

“Good police action deserves our praise, bad police policy deserves our [criticism],” Bookbinder said. “The vote is about the plan, not about who put forth the plan.”

The fact that the majority of the city councilors as well as the audience were in agreement over the resolution meant that there was no debate of the issue once it came to an official vote.

“The discussion in and of itself is valuable,” said City Council President William Dwight in his introduction of the resolution. He continued to describe that the resolution’s progression reaffirmed his faith in the involvement of residents in Northampton.

While the resolution itself is not legally binding, it was introduced alongside an ordinance that would effectively ban the use of surveillance cameras of any kind in Northampton’s downtown area.

That ordinance was not addressed on Thursday, but is presently being reviewed by the city’s director of economic development, Terry Masterson, in the Mayor’s office.

The city council will hear public comments, debate and vote on the ordinance following the conclusion of Masterson’s study.

 

Will Soltero can be reached at wsoltero@umass.edu and followed on Twitter at @WillSoltero.

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