The headline in today's News reads "New Year's under surveillance: High-tech cameras, police foot patrol seeks to ensure a safe night."
The headline writer would have us believe the surveillance cameras are a good thing.
I would beg to differ.
Buffalo police rolled out their network of 43 surveillance cameras back in April, saying they expected to have about 100 in place by the end of the year. For tonight's festivities downtown, the police will also be using a mobile camera.
I noted in a post back then that they were operating the system without any rules or policies. Police, in essence, can do what they please with the cameras.
But they promise they will be good boys. It's not like they've gone on ticket-writing blitzes or withheld crime information from the public, or anything like that.
Police spokesman Mike DeGeorge said back in April that rules would be forthcoming and I have periodically checked back with him. A policy was drafted months ago and submitted to the corporation counsel's office for review. And there it apparently sits. Inquiries to the Mayor Byron Brown's office on what his law department is doing with the draft policy and the reason for the delay have been met with silence.
Buffalo police aren't real good with low-tech tools like finger-printing. They only dust one of every 10 burglary scenes. We're supposed to have confidence in their use of high-tech tools?
The potential for abuse is more than an abstract one. There's a history of abuse by both police and private security forces, as summarized in this listing and this New York Times story about how police there used their snooping powers to capture a couple's, say we say, "intimate moments." In September, the ACLU filed a lawsuit over New York City's planned use of 3,000 cameras in lower Manhattan.
Here in Buffalo, well, yawn. Nothing from the ACLU and the Common Council has a police oversight committee, but its members are not asking any questions, much less demanding action on this matter.