Public-facing camera debate continues for Rochester council

·3 min read

Dec. 7—The use of public-facing cameras throughout Rochester continues to be a subject of debate for Rochester City Council members.

Council member Nick Campion said he finds it troubling that the location of the city's 545 fixed cameras has not been provided.

"We've classified that data as private," Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish, citing security concerns related to the connected network.

During the same meeting Monday, Lt. Jon Turk of the Rochester Police Department said some theories suggest that raising awareness of camera locations can help deter crime.

Council member Shaun Palmer raised other concerns about identifying camera locations, which could be accessed by criminals.

"I don't want us to tell people where our cameras are, just from a perspective that they would go to an area where we don't have any," he said.

Campion said he was able to quickly identify 15 city cameras using a map website, so some information already publicly exists.

"It doesn't ring true to me," he said of the security concerns, adding that installing more cameras would be counter to securing the network that connects them.

Monday's council discussion stemmed from a review of city camera policy after the council voted 5-1 to spend $200,000 to add 17 downtown cameras and related equipment. Campion opposed the effort.

Palmer said Monday that he supports the increased effort.

"In my opinion, you have no privacy once you leave your home," he said, adding that city's cameras, along with private residential cameras, help provide security in public spaces.

Lt. Jon Turk of the Rochester Police Department said the cameras have been found to be a valuable tool for monitoring crowd activity and investigating crime, including helping identify a suspect in a Nov. 26 downtown assault.

However, he pointed out many city's fixed cameras are not in public spaces. Instead, they are located in city buildings to help secure public assets.

Turk and Dale Martinson, the city director of finance and information technology, said the public cameras are fixed on areas with the most activity.

"If there are busy public spaces in the community, there are likely to be cameras or we are working to get cameras in those locations," he said.

Existing state and local policies guide operations of the camera, use of the video and access to the related data, but council members said it might be time to add limits.

Turk said the Rochester Police Department doesn't have access to face-recognition technology related to the video, but Council President Brooke Carlson suggested the city should help enforce the reality by considering a policy banning the use of the technology that exists elsewhere.

Campion agreed that the city should lead, even if state policy doesn't address the concern.

"I'm not going to wait for the state of Minnesota to do it, because I'd probably grow old," he said.

Palmer said he wouldn't be opposed to proper use of facial-recognition software if it could help deter crime.

"I surely would like to look at it and have a policy on it, but I surely wouldn't be against it just out of the bag," he said.

Council member Molly Dennis also voiced support for finding ways to increase public safety by investing in the cameras.

"I feel cameras definitely prevent crime," she said, adding more data linked to cost savings connected to crime prevention would be helpful.

Campion said the city needs to balance concerns on all sides, whether it's people wanting more public safety or those concerned about growing surveillance.

"We have to find a middle ground, where everyone is comfortable," he said.

Council members stated they expect further discussions on the issue to be held.

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