Thursday, September 20, 2007
For Immediate Release
ACLU Expresses Dismay At Arcata Spy
At the regular monthly meeting of the Redwood Chapter, ACLU Board of Directors today, local civil rights leaders condemned the 3-2 vote last night by the Arcata City Council to move forward with plans concocted by Arcata Police chief Randy Mendosa to install a high-tech surveillance camera system on the
“The Council unanimously defeated this same plan back in 2001 after a massive public outcry over the civil liberties implications of spying on local residents as they work, shop, protest and play in their town square,” said Redwood ACLU chair Christina Allbright. “Their flip-flop in favor of an intrusive and ineffective spy camera system will not go unnoticed in our community.”
After several public comments against the plan by ACLU spokespersons and local residents, including former councilmember Dave Meserve, the City Council did agree to bring back to a future meeting a policy under development by city manager Michael Hackett.
“Thankfully there are members of the City Council such as Paul Pitino and Harmony Groves who see the danger to civil liberties inherent to this proposal,” said Redwood ACLU boardmember Stephen Davies. “We thank them for their strong stand against a repeat of this foolish idea.”
The Council also received a 28-page page report prepared this summer by the ACLU of Northern California which provided detailed research on how public surveillance camera systems have proven ineffective and prone to corrupt uses such as racial profiling.
“Government-run video surveillance can radically alter the relationship between law enforcement and the public. By itself, pervasive video surveillance threatens privacy rights. But even more disturbing, the threat multiplies when government combines cameras with emerging technologies…” stated the report. “Surveillance cameras will not improve public safety, and limited funds can be better spent on programs that are both proven effective and less invasive, such as improved lighting, foot patrols, and real community policing.”
In response to the forthcoming Arcata public surveillance policy, the Redwood ACLU plans a series of public forums in Arcata to disseminate the report’s findings, provide an account of the previously defeated spy cam plan in 2001 and promote community input prior to the adoption of the new policy.
“A diverse set of Arcata residents from across the political spectrum mobilized to put a stop to this scheme six years ago, and we were successful,” said Redwood ACLU vice chair Greg Allen. “We did it before, and apparently we will have to do it again since some of the councilmembers subsequently elected just didn’t get the message.”
Local ACLU leaders also express particular concern with the appearance of a conflict of interest on the part of councilmember Alex Stillman, who owns several properties on the Plaza and who even stated last night that she was considering installing a substantially similar private surveillance system at her own expense and on her own building – that is, unless the City of Arcata spent public tax dollars to do much the same thing.
“Stillman cast the tie-breaking vote to move in the direction of a policy that would by her own admission materially affect her property and her business affairs,” said Allen. “The appearance of conflict under the Brown Act and under Arcata’s own Code of Ethics makes it clear she should step aside when this policy comes back for a vote later this year.”
The state affiliate of the ACLU has made their report, entitled “Under the Watchful Eye: The Proliferation of Video Surveillance Systems in
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