Tag Archives: camera

Law enforcement officials refuse to identify who installed ‘mystery’ cameras on utility poles throughout St. Lawrence County

Law enforcement officials refuse to identify who installed ‘mystery’ cameras on utility poles throughout St. Lawrence County

By CRAIG FREILICH

Some area law enforcement officials apparently know who is installing the mysterious camera boxes on utility poles around St. Lawrence County, but they’re not saying who it is.

The boxes, with a window for cameras to peer out of, have popped up in Norwood, Raymondville, DeKalb Junction, Waddington, Massena and Canton, according to witnesses.

Law enforcement officials at local, state and federal agencies agree the boxes contain license plate readers that take snapshots, and are not video cameras that send live feeds. But none of them are willing to identify what agency the cameras belong to and who is operating them.

The cameras appear to be identical to license plate readers advertised on web sites as containing a visible light camera, infrared camera and an infrared light source. The cameras can read plates on passing vehicles, record the plate number, date, time and location, send it to a database for storage, and alert law enforcement if it detects a vehicle or driver being sought.

They are similar to vehicle-mounted units that St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells says his department has been using for 10 years.

But about the pole-mounted cameras, Sheriff Wells says, “They are not mine.”

A spokesperson from National Grid, the major electric distributor in the region, said the company periodically agrees to requests from police agencies for placement of such devices on utility poles, but they are not permitted to reveal any details about whose cameras they are or where they might be.

National Grid’s Virginia Limmiatis, a senior media relations representative in Syracuse, said their policy “authorizes the user to plug into our system. Under the agreement they are required to install and maintain their own equipment.” The user will get a bill for a usage fee. But she couldn’t say whose cameras these are.

Meanwhile, a box Massena Electric employees found on one of their poles was turned over to the Massena Police Department. “We didn’t even know it was a camera,” said Superintendent Andrew McMahon. “We called the village police to pick it up.”

Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier said he returned it to the owner, but wouldn’t say how he knew who the owner was, nor would he say who he gave it to.

A Border Patrol operations officer in the sector station in Swanton, Vt., said he had no knowledge about the use of the cameras. He referred questions to an investigator apparently associated with Franklin County law enforcement, who said he knew about other cameras, but didn’t know about deployment of license plate readers, and wouldn’t discuss it further.

State Police Lt. Kevin Boyea of Troop B said he has no knowledge of the cameras, their origin or their purpose.

However, not all police agencies were aware of the boxes. After discussing it at a periodic meeting of police chiefs from around the county this morning, Wells said, “none of the local chiefs were ever contacted about the existence of these cameras.”

Several of the law enforcement representatives said use of cameras – license plate readers and surveillance cameras – is increasing, and while we might not be used to such scrutiny in the North Country, each cited reports about how people living in cities should expect to be on camera at any given moment.

“Any time you travel in an urban area, you will see lots of cameras,” said Sheriff Wells. Many, he said, are designed to record drivers who go through red lights, and there are many other uses. “They’re designed to assist police. They are a tool for investigators.”

But any law enforcement agency that wants data stored by the cameras can have access to it if they need it and can show why. But they can’t tell us who they send their requests to.

McMahon, the superintendent at Massena Electric Department, said one of his crews found a box on one of their poles and took it down because “it was in the electric space,” the top tier of wires on the pole above the telephone and cable TV wires, and whoever put it there had taken a chance with electrocution. He said they had never received a request or been informed about its placement.

McMahon said whoever put it there might have thought the pole belonged to National Grid, and that it wouldn’t be the first time a mistake like that had happened. He said National Grid themselves had once replaced a damaged Massena Electric pole without knowing it.

There Is NO Escape From the “Future NOW” Camera

No Car Will Escape This “Future Now” Speed Cam

By Ben Popken

Most photo radar systems can’t keep track of more than one car at a time. But the descriptively-named “Cordon multi-target Photo Radar System” can. If these bad boys get deployed across America, people who pride themselves on their speeding skills better cool their jets.

The device is able to generate both a wide-angle image and a close-up of the car’s license plate, keeping track of up to 32 cars across four lanes of traffic. The camera tracks each car’s license plate and shows how fast they’re going, showing green for below the speed limit, yellow for within appropriate speed ranges, and red for speed racers.

It’s about as big as a large video projector and can be mounted in a variety of locations, like a tripod or a road-sign, which makes them harder for motorists to spot.

The device’s video and website didn’t clarify how the license plates would be correlated to individual drivers, as their faces were not discernible in the video. In some municipalities you can’t give a ticket to a car, you have to give it to the driver. Without additional verification it would be hard for these tickets to stand up in court as they would have to prove you were the driver of the car at the time the image was taken.

You have a little bit of time to train yourself to be a slower driver – minding the speed limit and leaving yourself enough travel time so that speeding isn’t necessary – as the distributor won’t start selling them in the US until the beginning of 2012. Here’s a video showing the device in action:

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Know Your Rights: Photographers

Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply.

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Your rights as a photographer:

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).

Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant. If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).

Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.

Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.

Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:

Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.

If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.

If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Special considerations when videotaping:

With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.

Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio “bugging” of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.

In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).

In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state’s prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But that is the case in nearly all states, and no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation. The state of Illinois makes the recording illegal regardless of whether there is an expectation of privacy, but the ACLU of Illinois is challenging that statute in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials’ public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.

Photography at the airport

Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process. The agency does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.

The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.

The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.

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Red Light……Green Light….Red Light! Gotcha!

Challenges to red light cameras span US
Studies touting safety benefits sometimes contradictory, incomplete

By Alex Johnson Reporter
msnbc.com

In more than 500 cities and towns in 25 states, silent sentries keep watch over intersections, snapping photos and shooting video of drivers who run red lights. The cameras are on the job in metropolises like Houston and Chicago and in small towns like Selmer, Tenn., population 4,700, where a single camera setup monitors traffic at the intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and Mulberry Avenue.

One of the places is Los Angeles, where, if the Police Commission gets its way, the red light cameras will have to come down in a few weeks. That puts the nation’s second-largest city at the leading edge of an anti-camera movement that appears to have been gaining traction across the country in recent weeks.

A City Council committee is considering whether to continue the city’s camera contract over the objections of the commission, which voted unanimously to remove the camera system, which shoots video of cars running red lights at 32 of the city’s thousands of intersections. The private Arizona company that installed the cameras and runs the program mails off $446 tickets to their registered owners.

The company’s contract will expire at the end of July if the council can’t reach a final agreement to renew it.

Opponents of the cameras often argue that they are really just revenue engines for struggling cities and towns, silently dinging motorists for mostly minor infractions. And while guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say revenue is an invalid justification for the use of the eyes in the sky (see box at right), camera-generated citations do spin off a lot of money in many cities — the nearly 400 cameras in Chicago, for example, generated more than $64 million in 2009, the last year for which complete figures were available.

Los Angeles hasn’t been so lucky.

The city gets only a third of the revenue generated by camera citations, many of which go unpaid anyway because judges refuse to enforce them, the city controller’s office reported last year. It found in an audit that if you add it all up, operating the cameras has cost $1 million to $1.5 million a year more than they’ve generated in fines, even as “the program has not been able to document conclusively an increase in public safety.”

Federal camera guidelines

The Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration says red light cameras and other automated traffic controls should:

• Reduce the frequency of violations.

• Maximize safety improvements with the most efficient use of resources.

• Maximize public awareness and approval.

• Maximize perceived likelihood that violators will be caught.

• Enhance the capabilities of traffic law enforcement and supplement, rather than replace, traffic stops by officers.

• Emphasize deterrence rather than punishment.

• Emphasize safety rather than revenue generation.

• Maintain program transparency by educating the public about program operations and be prepared to explain and justify decisions that affect program operations.

Source: Speed Enforcement Camera Systems Operational Guidelines, Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration


Another common refrain from critics is that the devices replace a human officer’s judgment and discretion with the cold, unforgiving algorithms of a machine.

“You’ve got to treat people fairly,”
said Jay Beeber, executive director of Safer Streets LA, who has led the campaign to kill the city’s red light cameras. “You have to give people a fighting chance that you’re not going to penalize them for a minor lapse of judgment.”

Paul Kubosh, a lawyer who has led a similar anti-camera fight in Houston, called the camera systems “a scam on the public,” because they “are writing tickets that police officers don’t write.”

There’s a fierce court battle going on in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, after a U.S. district judge this week ruled that a measure voters approved to shut down the city’s more than 70 cameras was invalid on procedural grounds.

Could hundreds of lives be saved?

More than a dozen large studies over the past decade have concluded that the cameras reduce accidents and injuries. The most recent, published in February by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crunched 10 years of federal traffic data for the 99 largest U.S. cities — 14 of which now deploy cameras — and calculated that had all 99 installed the devices, 815 lives would have been saved from 2004 through 2008.

We still have thousands of people who die,” said Adrian Lund, the Insurance Institute’s president. “We look at where and how that’s happening, and one of the most dangerous (locations) is intersections.”

Citing reports like that, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which coincidentally is headed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, this week approved a resolution endorsing nationwide adoption of red light cameras.

And yet, in addition to the votes in Los Angeles and Houston:

The Albuquerque, N.M., City Council voted this month to let residents vote on the future of the city’s 20 red light cameras in October. (City lawyers are still weighing whether the vote would have any official effect.)
In May, a Missouri circuit judge issued a preliminary ruling saying the measure that authorized St. Louis’ 51 cameras was illegally enacted.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he would sign a bill the Legislature passed last month to limit — though not ban outright — localities’ use of cameras at intersections.
The North Carolina Senate voted in April to ban cameras; the measure awaits House action.
The Florida House passed a bill last month to ban red light cameras; the measure failed in the Senate.
A Superior Court judge last week struck down the law that enacted use of cameras in Spokane, Wash., agreeing that citations generated by the cameras were invalid because they were not personally signed by a police officer.

Often, the cameras lead to fines — and depending on the jurisdiction, costly points on drivers’ records — for borderline infractions like failing to come to a complete stop before making a right turn. (That infraction makes up two-thirds of the citations issued at camera-monitored intersections in Los Angeles, even though it rarely leads to an accident, the controller’s audit reported.)

Other common complaints are that the automated citations violate due process and equal protection rights — often, there’s no officer to confront in court — and invade motorists’ privacy.
Challenges to red light cameras

Besides questions about the reliability of safety research and the use of cameras as revenue generators, challenges to the devices have raised these issues:

Due process and equal protection. Defendants have argued that enforcement is selective because not all violators receive tickets, that assuming the driver is also the owner shifts the burden of proof from prosecutors to defendants, that different punishments for tickets issued by a machine and by an officer violate the 14th Amendment, that delays in processing and sending out tickets violate due process protections and that warning signs are frequently unclear or incorrectly placed.

Search and seizure. At least two lawsuits have argued that issuing a citation based on a photograph amounts to an unconstitutional seizure of the vehicle.

Privacy. While some anti-camera advocates argue that the cameras are an invasion of privacy, no such challenges have been raised in court, according to research by Carlos Sun, a lawyer and engineering professor at the University of Missouri, who writes: “Driving is a regulated activity on public roads. By obtaining a license, a motorist agrees to abide by certain rules including, for example, to obey traffic signals.”

Sources: msnbc.com research; “Is Robocop a Cash Cow?” (Carlos Sun, University of Missouri, November 2010)

Leslie Blakey, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, which advocates for red light cameras, said opponents have fought the devices since they started taking root about a decade ago. She broke the opposition down into two camps: “civil libertarians who resist the imposition of automated enforcement” and “people who got tickets and just don’t like it.”

Beeber, of Safer Streets LA, agreed that “as more people get tickets, they start getting mad about it,” saying: “You start doing that year after year after year and you start generating enough anger in the populace and it gets to the tipping point.”

What’s changed in the last couple of years, Blakey said, is the “ability of people to organize online and form communities and organize actions that are well-orchestrated” on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

These things are becoming more and more useful to a small minority of people who want to mount an action against anything,” she said.

In response, Blakey’s group points to the Insurance Institute study and others like it that conclude the “red light cameras lead to significant decreases in intersection violations and crashes.”

Large studies produce wide range of results
This is where things get muddy, because hard research on the effect of red light cameras in the United States is incomplete and often contradictory.

That includes the widely reported Insurance Institute study from February. Like nearly all other studies over the past decade, that report found a significant decline in deaths from red light accidents in cities that use cameras. But deaths from U.S. roadway accidents of all kinds have dropped significantly — by 13.1 percent — during the study period of 2004 through 2008, data from the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration show.

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