Public Safety, Privacy Weighed as Lexington, Ky., Advances Surveillance Pilot for Local Parks

Cities across the country are struggling with how to use surveillance and other cameras as they weigh individual privacy rights versus public safety.

by Beth Musgrave / November 3, 2016

(TNS) — A Lexington council committee gave its blessing Tuesday for a pilot program that would put surveillance cameras in Berry Hill Park for a year.

The Urban County Council General Government and Social Services Committee voted 8 to 1 to move forward with the pilot program after a more than hour-long debate.

Cities across the country are struggling with how to use surveillance and other cameras as they weigh individual privacy rights versus public safety. The debate Tuesday also questioned if the cameras would push crime to the neighborhoods instead of parks.

Several hurdles have to be cleared before the four cameras can be installed. The full council must vote on the program. A final vote likely won’t happen until after February 2017. To boot, the $30,000 needed for the cameras, installation and infrastructure is not in the parks’ budget. If the full council approves the pilot program, the city will have to find the money.

Councilman Fred Brown, who pushed for the pilot program and whose district includes Berry Hill Park, reminded council members that if the cameras caused heartache for the public and did nothing to deter crime, the pilot could be scrapped. Berry Hill is on Buckhorn Drive, which is just outside Man o’ War Boulevard between Tates Creek Road and Alumni Drive, has the city’s newest skate park.

“We are not re-inventing the wheel,” Brown said, noting that several cities including Louisville have some cameras in their parks. “The key word is pilot program.”

Councilwoman Angela Evans opposed the pilot program. Evans, a lawyer, was the only council member to vote against installing cameras.

“This becomes a slippery slope,” Evans said. “My question is where would it stop. ... That becomes a constitutional issue.”

Brown said the neighborhood around Berry Hill Park has been difficult to engage because there is no active neighborhood association in the area. But Evans said she wanted to see more input from neighbors and the community. Before the city focused on cameras, it should look at other ways to deter crime in parks, including lighting, she said.

“People feel very strongly about being observed,” Evans said.

Other council members questioned if putting cameras in parks would move crime to other areas.

“One of things that I’m worried about is displacement of crime,” said Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe.

Councilman Richard Moloney said crime and other problems decreased in Douglass Park on Georgetown Street because of the efforts of Councilman James Brown, who organized various events to celebrate the park’s 100th birthday. Parks and recreation also stepped up programming there. This summer the city used $100,000 that was set aside for overtime to put more police officers in Lexington parks, said Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard.

That program was very successful, he said.

But Barnard agreed that busy parks make for the safest parks.

Barnard said he understood Evans’ concerns and said he would not advocate either way.

“I can see this from both sides,” Barnard said.

Others questioned why Berry Hill was selected as the pilot site.

“We have had murders in some of the other parks that are still unsolved,” said Councilwoman Shevawn Akers.

Monica Conrad, parks and recreation director, said officials looked at police data and found that Berry Hill was in the top 10 of parks with the most calls. The city has more than 100 parks. Berry Hill is also a smaller park. It won’t cost as much to install the cameras in that park as it would in a much larger park.

Data on police calls to Lexington parks was not provided during Tuesday’s meeting.

Other council members said they supported the use of surveillance cameras. Private businesses use security cameras. Neighborhood associations are now using them.

Police “cannot be there all the time,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, whose district borders Berry Hill. The program is a pilot. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

The city has surveillance cameras on some buildings in parks but those cameras monitor the building, not the park, said Geoff Reed, general services commissioner.

©2016 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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