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 Committee Report

Committee Report #1


In City Council February 11, 2013

Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Chair  
Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons  
Councillor Timothy J. Toomey  

The Public Safety Committee held a public meeting on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 beginning at 5:32 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.

The purpose of the meeting was to continue discussions on security cameras in the City.

Present at the meeting were Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi, Steven Williams, Superintendent of Police, Fire Chief Gerald Reardon, and Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez. 

Also present were: Nancy Murray, Education Director, UCLA, Gloria Leipzig, Director of Operations, Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) and Dave Degou, Chief Security Officer, CHA.

Councillor Kelley convened the meeting and explained the purpose.  The issue of security cameras came up at the City Council meeting a couple of years ago.  The City received money for the installation of surveillance cameras from the Department of Homeland Security.  While these cameras have never been used, security cameras are a touchy subject.  His hope is that the City Council can set up guidelines for surveillance and security camera use by City agencies.  The default, when the City has no policy, is that cameras are not installed.  His fellow Councillors have asked him to continue this discussion.  He hopes the Cambridge Housing Authority and the School Department will tell him what equipment they have.  He asked the Cambridge Housing Authority Housing to explain what equipment they have and how they manage the equipment. 

Dave Degou stated that he serves as the public safety administrator for the CHA.  In this capacity he checks the CHA security cameras.  Public safety is the main issue.  Security cameras are installed or removed where needed.  He gave examples, such as illegal dumping, to prevent vandalism and at Jefferson Park which has illegally parked autos.  Cameras are used at elderly apartments in the elevators and in the hallways. The cameras are internal and can be moved around as crime moves.  The elderly feel secure with the cameras.  Deputy City Manager Rossi asked if the system is still used in elderly housing building where the resident can use their TVs to see who is ringing their bell.  Mr. Degou responded that this is still done in all elderly buildings.  Intercoms are also used.

Fire Chief Reardon stated that security cameras used by the Fire Department are internal and are on the outside of the buildings.  Superintendent Williams stated that the police use the security cameras the same way.  Exterior cameras will provide footage of nearby public space like sidewalks or streets depending on how they are aimed, but that is ancillary. 

Nancy Murray, Education Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, 204 Erie Street, addressed the committee.  She stated that the ACLU has 1300 members in Cambridge.  She then gave general information regarding the implementation of security and surveillance cameras and outlined general principles which should guide decisions about when and how to use them.  She read a prepared statement (ATTACHMENT A).  ACLU does not oppose use of surveillance cameras at highly sensitive areas such as housing developments.  There must be buy in by the residents on the use and the installation of security cameras.   Cameras in schools do present problems.  Students do not shed their rights at the school house door.  ACLU has not opposed cameras at all schools.  There must be buy in by students and parents.  She has seen no proof that cameras have stopped violence in schools.  ACLU urges that cameras only be used if there is a problem in school and there is buy in by students, parents and staff.   She noted that a Newton school had problems with surveillance cameras.  She cited a study about London, where lots of money is spent on cameras, that one crime is prevented for every 1000 camera installed and Great Britain seems intent on more camera use, setting up a Camera Commission and upgrading cameras to get facial recognition at 0.5 miles.  The mission creep associated with cameras allows them to be upgraded with RFID, facial recognition and other capabilities.  It is outrageous that people are treated as if they are committing a crime.  The ACLU has opposed cameras in public spaces because of the threat to the expectation of anonymity and the lack of a real drop in crime.  San Francisco study indicated that there was not a drop in drug dealing, homicides and so forth after camera installation, though property crimes seem to drop.  She spoke about face recognition and the use of technology and its connection to public service data bases that can be used to track the location of people.  This information can be stored, shared and monitored.  Technology is changing rapidly.  30,000 security drones are expected to be in US airspace by end of this decade.  A Massachusetts police group has asked to use drones, some of which can read license plates at 15 miles away, see through walls and carry grenades.  Cameras can be abused by users, to include the FBI where agents used cameras to check out girls trying on prom dresses.  Cameras can be used for demographic carve outs.  Now there are cameras that can recognize faces at 400 feet, license plates at 300 feet and read papers at 50 feet and the data may be stored on hard drives for two weeks or more.  ACLU was pleased that the Cambridge City Council rejected the use of cameras in 2009 and the fact that the cameras have not been turned on.  ACLU is worried that captured data can be used by the fusion center.  Crowds should not be scanned unless it is to track a wrongdoer.

She outlined four principles on camera use: 

  1. Involve the public in the decision making process.  It is clearly wrong to put up cameras without notice.  The public needs to understand the cost of cameras, their use, changes in their abilities, etc.
  2. Establish a clear policy on data retention, access, sharing and how long it can be kept; 
  3. Establish privacy principles and make sure policy is implemented.  Need robust oversight mechanisms; and
  4. Strict safeguards should be put in place to prevent mission creep.  The should be, for example, no warrantless biometric searches without appropriate safeguards.  

Councillor Kelley stated that the School Department runs their own facility.  There are signs at the schools stating that cameras are being used.  He has no idea what cameras are used for.  Technology is moving rapidly. Vice Mayor Simmons suggested putting questions in writing about the camera usage for the School Department to answer.

Councillor Kelley asked what are non-cameras used for.  Chief Reardon stated that they are backhaul to get signal back.  Verizon is paid for leased line to bring back radio signals.  This has been a significant cost savings of several thousand dollars a year.  Microwave dishes are used to transmit information.  The cameras are used for traffic; they are not high tech, cannot pick up a license plate number and would not capture facial recognition. They are like what you would see on a TV traffic report.  Superintendent Williams added that the cameras were for monitoring traffic during critical incidents.

Councillor vanBeuzekom asked whether any of the other eight communities in the Urban Area Security group had the cameras updated.  Chief Reardon stated that some had upgrades, but it only changed who viewed the information.  Verizon wired system is not keeping up with the infrastructure and the City would like move away from some of these vendor supplied, in ground systems.  Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if the other towns that installed the cameras are using them. Chief Reardon responded that all use them but he wasn't sure what they used them for.  Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if the cameras are used for evacuation.  Cambridge wanted to use the cameras for traffic.  He could not speak for other communities.

Vice Mayor Simmons asked what external cameras CHA has.  Mr. Degou stated that the CHA has 185 cameras - mostly in elevators and hallways.  There are five external cameras; three at Willow Park, on at Jefferson Park and one at Clifton Street.   Councillor Kelley asked if the one external camera at Jefferson Park captures information.  Mr. Degou replied in the affirmative.  At locations were cameras are installed crime moves away from the camera location.  Mr. Degou stated that there are forty cameras in Jefferson Parking mostly in the parking areas, community room, health center, dumpsters, by the railroad tracks, lobby and the elevators.  There is one camera outside the building on Rindge Avenue that captures the scene on Clifton Street.  The camera is facing the street.  The information captured is kept by the CHA for thirty days.  The property manager has control of the cameras and the cameras are not monitored.  Councillor Kelley asked who has access to view the information on the camera; what is the CHA's policy.  Mr. Degou stated that if there is an incident the property manager will view film.  Ms. Leipzig stated that the property manager will view the tape if there is a complaint about, for example, marijuana use or congregating in public areas.  The CHA can bring tenants in on lease violations or complaints.  Generally the property managers do not monitor cameras unless there is a complaint.  The information cannot be remotely accessed.  There is no written policy about surveillance cameras.  Councillor Kelley asked if the CHA has license plate recognition capabilities.  Mr. Degou stated that this technology is only installed at the entrance to Jefferson Park and it is not really plate recognition technology.   The camera records the license plate at entrance of health center.  No information is checked and the whole car is pictured, not just the license plate.  It's just that the license plate is readable if there is a complaint that warrants review.  Councillor Kelley inquired what is done with this information.   Mr. Degou informed the committee that complaints are received by the CHA for drive-through and loud noise.   Councillor Kelley asked if the license plate information is run against a state-wide database and digital recognition.  Ms. Leipzig responded that the camera is a moving camera that captures the whole vehicle.   Ms. Murray asked what happens to the image when a picture is taken.  Mr. Degou stated that the information stays there.  Vice Mayor Simmons stated that her understanding thus far is that a car enters Jefferson Park, the camera takes a picture of the license plate, and the CHA can view the image and identify the car and then find out who owns the car.  Mr. Degou stated that if the CHA receives a complaint the CHA would contact the police to see who owns the car.  Vice Mayor Simmons asked are there adjacent cameras in area other than the camera zoomed on the parking lot.  Mr. Degou and Ms Leipzig responded in the affirmative.

Councillor Kelley asked how the CHA communicated to the residents about the cameras.  Mr. Degou stated that the community meetings were held with the residents.  The residents were happy about the cameras, or at least did not seem to care.  If a resident wanted to know the location of the cameras that information would be provided by the property manager. Cameras were installed in the elderly housing developments for safety; the other developments were done for security issues.  Putnam Avenue Apartments and Woodrow Wilson Court do not have cameras.

Councillor Kelley asked how the CHA keeps up with technology changes relating to the cameras.  Mr. Degou stated that the Manning Apartments had a camera technology upgrade and shows a crisper image.  It is expensive to install cameras, more capable cameras are very expensive, and there are costs associate storage and clarity issues. 

Relating to the shooting on Willow Street Councillor Kelley asked why a camera was not installed.  He asked Superintendent Williams what role the camera would take with a warrant.  Superintendent Williams stated that if there was community concern and a wish for the installation of camera to monitor an area the police would concur, but the cost of camera mounting is expensive, especially if it is not wireless.  The police would not be adverse to camera installation.  Vice Mayor Simmons commented that in the past few months there is camera surveillance on Willow Street.  Councillor Kelley asked how difficult to install temporary cameras it is.  Superintendent Williams stated that the process is quite involved.  Chief Reardon added that nothing is stored in the camera.  There is new technology to install cameras at hot spots, but installation and maintaining equipment is expensive.  Councillor Kelley requested that the police craft criteria for the temporary installation of camera equipment.  Vice Mayor Simmons stated that the City needs to figure out how to use and regulate the camera equipment, noting that the City wants people to be safe but rights need to be protected and "safe from who?" needs to be answered.  People are suspicious; there is distrust for people who represent the government.  Communities of color have reasons not to be trusting.  Mr. Rossi stated that CORI review could be a good start to discussion on how this issue would work.  There would need to be tight reins and clear repercussions.  At the Occupy Harvard event there was a professional employee with a digital camera taking pictures of the crowd. Chief Reardon stated there is new technology coming out for temporary use during disasters- "quick deploy" cameras were becoming more affordable but were not really covert.  And CPD has handheld cameras for recording specific events.

Councillor Kelley asked if Russell Field has cameras.  Chief Reardon stated there are cameras on the Field house looking at the perimeter of the building.

Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if the CHA has a consent form for the tenants.  There is no CHA consent form stated Ms. Leipzig.  Mr. Murray stated that it would be good to have this information in the lease agreement.  Mr. Leipzig responded that cameras are installed in public areas.   Most people know that cameras are installed; word travels fast.

Councillor Kelley asked Ms. Murray if there is a standard for public notification.  Mr. Murray stated that she does not believe so, but she will ask.  

Councillor Kelley thanked all those present for their attendance. This is going to be an ongoing issue.  He does not want to continue these meeting if there is no need.  There will be more meetings.  He would like to meet at CHA buildings.  Ms. Leipzig asked if HRI and Win Management have security cameras.  Vice Mayor Simmons stated that 243 Broadway has cameras on the door.   She further stated that the crime on Willow Street emanated from a building that the city did not own.  HRI, Just A Start and Win Management all use management companies to manage their buildings.  Councillor Kelley asked if the house on Willow Street was declared troublesome and a camera was installed and the information stored what would be the cost.  Chief Reardon stated that the cost depended on the sophistication level wanted.  Mr. Rossi stated that someday it may be valuable to the clarity of a photograph for a traffic concern versus a camera that looks at a license plate so that it is understood what is being debated.  The police have cameras on the perimeters, the Finance Department has cameras, and the Fire Headquarters have cameras around the perimeters and no cameras on the other fire stations.  Mr. Rossi further stated that the Inspector General suggested cameras be installed at the golf course were money is kept.  The Water Department has cameras and there are no cameras at the youth centers. 

The meeting adjourned at 7:03 P.M.

For the Committee,

Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair
Public Safety Committee




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