Surveillance policy disclosed
Following a same-day request by the Jamestown Press for public documents pertaining to surveillance cameras, Town Administrator Kevin Paicos on Jan. 27 provided a copy of the policy to the Town Council.
Paicos cautioned the policy is still under review, and Councilor Blake Dickinson commented after the meeting to affirm there will be opportunity for public input.
The town has not had a policy about surveillance cameras, although an unknown number of municipal cameras are in use.
Dickinson asked then-Town Administrator Bruce Keiser last summer about the town’s policy following a story in the Press that exposed the scope of camera surveillance by the schools and the local, state and federal governments.
Keiser replied the town did not have any policy in place. The council met behind closed doors soon after with a promise to include the public in an upcoming discussion. Dickinson invited the School Department to attend, but ultimately, it did not participate in the council meeting.
No follow-up public session was ever held.
The information about the camera policy status came out while the councilors were setting their goals for the upcoming year. Councilor Mary Meagher inquired about the status of the camera policy.
“Do we have a written policy about our surveillance cameras?” she asked.
Paicos indicated that IT consultant Michael Glier had written the policy, which was up and running. He said if they wanted, the councilors could weigh in.
“Aspects of that are clearly of a public policy matter,” Paicos said.
He indicated, however, that he does not think the public should know the locations of the cameras.
“No,” Dickinson interrupted. “If we put a camera on the side of the building, what lengths are we going to as a town to warn or protect or provide feedback? We have a camera. What’s its use? Why is it there?”
At Town Hall, for example, surveillance cameras cannot be used in connection with any labor issue.
“There are legitimate policy level questions,” Paicos said. “Elected officials should have an oversight.”
Paicos allowed for decisions to be in the council’s “purview.”
Summing up the evolution of the controversy, Paicos said the issue is developing.
“I can’t tell you exactly what your role is,” he said.
“Shouldn’t we see it?” Meagher asked, noting the entire council had not yet seen any document.
“We owe you the policy,” Paicos conceded.
Paicos said the staff and councilors “need to collaborate” and delineate what is council business, and what is administrative.
“There are legal issues, too,” Dickinson added.
As another indication of the sensitivity of the subject, Paicos said the American Civil Liberties Union has communicated its concerns about Jamestown’s policy.
“We immediately got a letter from the ACLU,” he said.
According to Paicos, the watchdog group urged Jamestown to air the issues with the public. The letter said cameras are a “hot issue.”
On Oct. 22, Hillary Davis, policy associate with the ACLU, sent Council President Kristine Trocki a letter congratulating the town for “engaging in a serious discussion as to the level of surveillance to which Jamestown residents should be subjected. We strongly encourage the adoption of an ordinance, crafted through an open and transparent process including public examination and comment, that sets standards on the use of surveillance equipment throughout Jamestown.”
Her letter went on to provide some guidance about the issues the ordinance should include.
Councilor Eugene Mihaly said it’s “important the public feels comfortable” that the town is protecting public safety, but not violating privacy rights. He suggested a safety board should be formed with one or two councilors who would “keep a finger on what we’re doing” and report back to the full council if anything sketchy comes up.
“For example?” Trocki said.
“Wouldn’t that be something we would do as a council?” Meagher asked.
“Why would we create another board?” she said.
Mihaly said technology was changing quickly. Although the full council could provide the oversight, “History has demonstrated this thing does need a standing board to work well.”
Paicos said the “highest elected public authority” should have the ultimate say, although others could advise.
Trocki turned to Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, who said the council is, in fact, a safety board.
“You’d be creating a subset of yourself when the authority resides in you,” he said.