City leaders review policy for downtown cameras; public notifications and outside monitoring among questions
photo by: Richard Gwin
The City of Lawrence is moving closer to installing public cameras downtown.
As part of its work session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission reviewed a draft of the Lawrence Police Department’s policy for public cameras, which details how the cameras will be used and how footage will be monitored, stored and potentially released. Commissioners had questions but did not voice major objections to the draft policy.
The commission asked to consider adding security cameras downtown following a shooting last year on Massachusetts Street that killed three people and injured two others. Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. told commissioners that the shooting, which occurred the day before he was sworn in as chief, represented a tipping point. Burns, who came to Lawrence from Louisville, said that he supports the use of cameras as a way to enhance public safety and help police solve crimes.
“My opinion is based on 30 years of law enforcement experience and the actual experience I have working with a public camera system,” Burns said.
The police department is recommending the installation of 19 cameras on Massachusetts Street between Sixth and 11th streets, according to a map the police department presented to the commission. The city has estimated that it will cost $108,000 for the cameras and the computer server expenses related to video storage.
The draft camera policy covers various aspects of the public cameras, including how the police will use the cameras, how long footage will be maintained before it is deleted, and when footage could be accessed by the police department. The full policy is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.
Burns said he was seeking mostly passive use of the cameras, meaning that the cameras would not typically be monitored live. He said that though the cameras may be monitored in emergency situations and during special events, such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, their primary purpose would be to assist police in solving crimes.
Commissioner Matthew Herbert asked whether the public would be notified in advance when the cameras will be modified for large-scale events. Burns said he thought that could be done.
Burns said he also expected the cameras to have some effect in deterring crime, especially because signs will alert passersby that the cameras are there. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen asked whether there are any studies that show that cameras deter crime. Burns said that some studies have shown that cameras reduce crime, but that other studies’ results have been mixed. He said that’s why it’s important that the draft policy calls for the public camera program to be audited annually to determine the effectiveness of the system.
Commissioner Jennifer Ananda asked whether the cameras would be equipped with facial recognition technology and whether the police department would allow outside law enforcement agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to use the cameras.
Lawrence police Captain Adam Heffley said the cameras would not have facial recognition software. He said the city already uses public cameras on city buildings and has temporarily installed cameras for events, and that he’s not aware of a time when a federal agency has requested access to the system.
Burns added he doesn’t expect to get a lot of those requests, but that they would have to be made in writing and get his approval. Burns noted language from the draft policy, which states that requests for access to the cameras or their archived footage must be submitted to the chief for consideration and would have to be for a “specific and legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
“It’s not necessarily going to happen,” Burns said. “I would always confer with (the city’s legal staff) if there was any question in my mind whether it was a legitimate purpose.”
During public comment, Kirsten Kuhn spoke to the commission on behalf of the Douglas County Libertarians. Kuhn said last year’s triple homicide was an isolated event and that the group is opposed to the installation of public cameras. She said the city’s goal should be to address root causes of crime instead.
“The cameras will not make us safer, but they will make us less free and cost the city more money,” Kuhn said.
Sgt. Amy Rhoads previously said in an email to the Journal-World that currently there is not a timeline of when cameras would be installed and that discussion would begin after the commission’s review of the draft policy.