Clickability tracking pixel

La. City Attorney Urges Changes to Surveillance Camera Agreement

Lafayette Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert is pushing for changes to an agreement for free surveillance cameras to be provided by a private company that would retain control of the video and images.

by Claire Taylor, The Advocate / January 6, 2021

(TNS) — Lafayette Assistant City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert on Tuesday said a contract should be amended to ensure images from security cameras provided free by a local company are used only for law enforcement purposes.

Mike Hebert was responding Tuesday to City Council members' questions and concerns about a no-bid contract Mayor-President Josh Guillory signed allowing a private company to install free security cameras for the police department's use while the company retains ownership of all photos and video.

Guillory, without advising or seeking approval from the City Council, signed an agreement Nov. 24 with Crime Fighters of Louisiana, a Lafayette company whose sole owner is Hewitt Brooks Bernard.

The police department will determine where to install the cameras, such as high-crime areas, and will have free access to the data, but the cameras and images will be owned by Crime Fighters.

Mike Hebert said Guillory was not required to seek bids because the Crime Fighters agreement is a service contract, which doesn't have to be bid. Only public works projects such as construction or purchase of materials require bids, he said.

The general principle of the four-year contract that expires Nov. 24, 2024, Mike Hebert said, is for law enforcement alone to use data collected by the cameras. Some provisions in the contract, he admitted, are "a little broad" and could be interpreted to allow some unintentional non-law enforcement uses.

Councilman Glenn Lazard, who returned Tuesday from a lengthy absence while being treated for leukemia, said as an attorney he was concerned to hear Hebert say the images are "supposed" to be only used for law enforcement purposes.

Some language in the agreement, Mike Hebert said, can and should be revised to clarify the images will be used only for law enforcement purposes.

There's a severability provision in the contract that says if any part is found invalid or enforceable, the contract can be reformed or automatically modified to comply with the law, Mike Hebert said. Also, just part of the contract can be severed or the entire contract can be terminated, he said.

The Home Rule Charter, Mike Hebert said, gives Guillory authority to enter a contract without the council's permission if the items are specifically identified in the budget. The budget contains line item expenses for police department cameras, telecommunications costs and neighborhood security, he said.

A 2015 contract in which the city purchased $700,000 worth of security cameras for the police department, Mike Hebert said, relied on that provision of the charter.

Newly-elected Council Chairperson Liz Hebert, however, questioned whether the Crime Fighters cameras were what Guillory intended when he placed those line items in the 2020-21 budget. Guillory said he did not know specifically he would enter this agreement but intended to use the money for security.

Responding to media reports that Crime Fighters needs a license to install the cameras, Mike Hebert said, after reviewing state statutes and State Fire Marshal's Office regulations, he believes it is questionable that a license is required. Either way, it is not the city's fight, he said.

©2021 The Advocate, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs