Tag Archives: Keep Columbia Safe

Big Brother Can Zoom

The Columbia Daily Tribune recently reported that Karen Taylor’s Keep Columbia Safe PAC has offered to donate nearly $3000 to the City of Columbia for the purchase of a more technologically advanced surveillance camera for use at the intersection of Tenth and Cherry. The camera would upgrade the existing stationary camera with a unit capable of panning, tilting and zooming.

This new camera would allow Columbia police officers to sit in front of a computer screen, joystick in hand, and zoom in on the peaceful day-to-day activities of law abiding citizens in real time.

During Karen Taylor’s campaign to have the cameras installed she and her comrades repeatedly stated that the cameras would only be used to record video and the recordings would only be accessed if needed to solve a crime. Of course, once the ballot initiative passed, the police violated the sanctity of the voting booth and changed the plan as they began the live monitoring of Downtown Columbia. Now Keep Columbia Safe is jumping on the bandwagon of live video by offering to buy a camera capable of zooming on the plunging necklines of young college coeds and perhaps detecting a few facecrimes.

The following video captures one of the countless times Karen Taylor promised the voters of Columbia that her beloved cameras would not be used for live surveillance.

Campaign promises are sacred! Taylor and her cohorts have violated the trust of the voters by outwardly promoting live surveillance after promising the opposite. By accepting these funds and using them to promote further live monitoring of law-abiding citizens, the Columbia City Council has betrayed the citizenry whom they serve.   If we, the citizens of Columbia, cannot believe the Council about this issue, why should we beleive them about anything else? Their credibility with voters is at stake. 

More generally business owners should realize that this tool allows for the existence of a more onerous regulatory and enforcement environment that is more likely to victimize business owners by dragging them through the process than protect public safety. After all, the City Council has official dubbed the surveillance cameras as Safety Cameras, not Regulatory Cameras.

Of course, this $3000 Keep Columbia Safe donation is funded by private dollars which can be spent however the private organization wishes. Yet, it is incumbent on us not to sit silent when these private funds are going toward furthering the police-industrial complex that is beleaguering us so with its liberty-crushing weight.

And the fact remains that cameras on public streets and sidewalks have been proven ineffective, time and time again. In these sparse budgetary times, our city cannot afford to waste any sum of money on technology that has been proven fruitless. The only studies that claim public cameras on public streets deter or solve violent crimes are studies funded by camera companies and the like. It is, however, important to note that our Safety Cameras have reportedly been used to keep the public safe from a dangerous litterbug.

There is simply no replacing the traditional methods of policing when it comes to keeping us safe. Columbia’s so-called “Safety Cameras” are a waste of money. 

 

 

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Campaign Promises are Sacred

During the campaign to authorize the use of government surveillance cameras in Downtown Columbia, the voters were sold a bill of goods by Keep Columbia Safe and the camera proponents within the city bureaucracy. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, now that the cameras are in place, the final product looks quite different than what was proposed. 

It is important to note that while the Prop 1 initiative and the ordinance it produced merely authorized the installation and use of cameras, it has been interpreted as a mandate for action. If we are to accept the ordinance as a command to action, it is important that the camera parameters that were spelled out during the campaign and in the ordinance be strictly adhered to.

Unfortunately, the city has ignored the will of the voters and, in a series of bureaucratic head-fakes reminiscent of the events surrounding the building of our behemoth, eyesore parking garage, the will of the voters and the ordinance itself have been repeatedly and summarily ignored. 

Cost:

During the campaign, the proposed camera system was repeatedly estimated at a cost around $50,000 for the first year. Based on that number, The District offered to fit half of the bill for the first year and so budgeted $25,000 of their special tax funds for the project. When it was all said and done and the council voted to install the cameras, the price tag was actually $75,000 per year, a 50% increase.

This may seem trivial when considering a tax funded, government program. After all, it’s rare for a government program to come in at or under budget, but this budget was important to the debate that formed voter opinion. When camera opponents argued that an additional officer would be a better use of public funds, camera proponents made the claim that the salary and training costs, estimated at $125,000, involved in hiring an officer were far more than the relatively inexpensive, estimated $50,000 price tag for the cameras. Had the proponents been honest with the cost and the gap between camera cost and officer cost been narrowed, many fiscally concerned voters may have voted against the cameras. 

Conspicuous?

The camera ordinance states that, “Downtown safety cameras may only be deployed so as to be conspicuous…” 

This has been a point of contention since the moment of installation. Before they were installed, Lt. Chris Kelly of the Downtown Unit told the Tribune that the plan was “to keep them unmarked, or ‘plain Jane,’ so the cameras blend in with the environment.” 

Lt. Kelly later claimed that he was quoted out of context, but I can’t imagine a context that would change the meaning of those words. In reaction to his foot-in-mouth moment, Lt. Kelly announced that his camouflaged cameras would be adorned with a CPD logo to make them “conspicuous.” 

Even with the 5 inch CPD stickers, the cameras are still not easy to spot if one is not consciously looking for them. During a visit to Tom Bradley‘s morning radio show on September 21st, 2011, CPD Public Information Officer Jill Weineke stated that the cameras are small and that she often has to point them out to people. I guess Jill hasn’t read the ordinance. 

The Live Feed:

Again, during the campaign, camera proponents promised one thing but the city did another. The folks at Keep Columbia Safe repeatedly poopooed fears articulated by civil libertarians, myself included, that the cameras would be used for live, Orwellian surveillance. Proponents claimed that the police did not have the time or resources to play Big Brother and monitor law abiding citizens on the city streets. They claimed plainly that the cameras would only be used as recording devices and that those recordings would only be accessed in search of evidence if a crime was committed and voters made up their minds based on these claims. Only a few short months after installation, it came to light that the live feed from the cameras was being monitored by the CPD. 

 

It all boils down to the fact that camera proponents lied to the voters. As Dan Viets so eloquently pointed out, “A campaign promise is sacred.” 

Thanks to Citizens For Justice for this footage.

Intimidation:

As Mitch Richards pointed out in his address to the Columbia City Council, there is a stationary camera pointed Directly at The Blue Fugue, a bar that is a popular meeting place for liberty advocates. The Blue Fugue is among the safest establishments in town, and sees none of the violent crime that might merit government surveillance, especially when compared with other bars in the area.

So why point a camera directly at The Blue Fugue? I won’t venture a guess at the official explanation, but it is important to note that the CPD has a history of intimidating those who dare to criticize the department. For proof, one need look no further than the case of Greg Williams and Officer Robert Fox. Mr. Williams participated in a protest against the use of SWAT dynamic entries for the service of search warrants for non-violent crimes like Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. SWAT raid. Officer Fox, and probably other officers, ran police background checks on the protesters. This came to light after Officer Fox released Mr. Williams’s juvenile record in the Tribune’s online comment section. Most of the stories regarding the indecent focused on the criminal release of sealed juvenile records in an attempt to discredit a protester who was merely exercising the most basic of American liberties. What the media accounts failed to recognize was that the CPD was running background checks on law-abiding citizens who dare to speak up and speak out when they see their public servant police force violating civil rights. 

With this in mind, it is not much of a stretch to imagine how this camera system might be used to intimidate the public and ultimately violate the First Amendment. Let’s not forget that the American Revolution and our beloved Bill of Rights was fomented over a few pints of ale in a few New England pubs.  

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