After months of deliberation, the New Haven City Services and Environmental Policy Committee considered discussion Tuesday evening on a policy that would institutionalize public camera usage.
Currently, the Elm City operates 212 public cameras — recording devices shared by government agencies that capture footage that city residents can petition to view — but there are no legislative structures that manage the collection and distribution of camera footage, or the construction of the physical recording devices. A public camera project, which would create such a structure, is currently in its draft stage. But the committee this week decided to table discussion on the policy, which would elevate this project to the status of an approved policy and create a process for departments wanting to add to the city’s existing camera infrastructure. The policy, discussion of which has already been delayed once before, next comes up for discussion Oct. 11.
“We’ve been working under a draft policy for a couple of years,” Maggie Targove, deputy director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said. “So we thought now we need to institutionalize this.”
Should the policy pass, the Board of Alders would recognize a Video Oversight Committee that would develop policies surrounding the acquisition, location, installation, networking and operation of existing and new cameras in addition to managing the recorded information. The committee would include one to two members from the Police, IT, Traffic & Parking and Emergency Management departments and Chief Administrator’s Office.
Following an Aug. 9 committee meeting that focused on the drawbacks of having no public representation on the Video Oversight Committee, Morris Cove Alder Salvatore DeCola — who also chairs the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee — recommended creating a seat for an alder on the oversight committee. When a city department, business or neighborhood wants to add a public camera onto the existing city network, those individuals will approach the board, which will consider the location of the camera, its purpose and who will be able to view the footage. Permissible locations are anywhere the public does not have an expectation of privacy.
“They’re a great tool for crime, especially since we’re low on officers,” East Rock Alder Anna Festa said.
The police camera locations are determined by crime data in each district. According to Targove, fewer crimes occur in areas that publicize the presence of cameras. Additionally, she said, when an emergency situation occurs, officers can look at their phones or computers to view a live feed of the crime area. They can also access footage to investigate past crimes.
“We’ve been able to capture some [important] footage on shootings and homicides,” New Haven Police Department Lt. Herb Johnson said.
Video access is not limited only to city officials — members of the public can access the videos as well. After the scene is screened for juveniles and sensitive information, people can purchase up to two hours of public video for between $75 and $300. The primary buyers of such material are attorneys and insurance companies. But as long as the buyer is not purchasing the videos to data-mine or accumulate a stockpile of facial-recognition data, anyone with reasonable cause can buy footage.
“They want cameras to protect themselves in the crime areas,” Targove said. “Neighborhoods bought their own cameras and linked it to the existing infrastructure.”
The public’s main concern over the proposed camera policy is that the Board of Education would use hundreds of cameras throughout local schools. Since previous versions of the policy have been unclear about accessibility of footage in schools, citizens were concerned their children’s privacy would be in jeopardy.
“Someone could see this [policy] and think people could see pictures of their kid,” DeCola said.
Attendees agreed Tuesday to amend the policy to clarify that cameras in schools are not viewable by the public.