Police are still investigating yesterday’s gun incident in Massena, and it seems that there’s some connection between the three people arrested yesterday in said incident, and a February kidnapping attempt. That information from North Country Now.
It was with incident fresh in my mind that I read today a rather surprising article in the (Potsdam/Massena) Daily Courier-Observer. The article describes a new tool that the village police department is set to receive to “fight area crime”: It’s an unmarked Humvee with high-resolution surveillance cameras (there’s more detail on how the surveillance functions will work in the article.) The department plans to use the Humvee to keep an eye on “areas of suspected criminal activity.” To be clear, this is the same police department that is investigating the above gun incident.
A few things about this struck me. First, how will the village pay for this? Second, will it be useful? And third, are there civil liberties issues here? I’m not here to make a judgment on any of those issues, but I will pass along what the department told the paper:
1. The Humvee won’t cost the department much. They’ve bought the equipment using a $5,000 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. That’s a federal program that describes itself as “is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.” The village got the Humvee through through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, which “provides surplus DoD equipment to law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism activities.” Drugs appear to be the primary concern here.
2. Will it be useful? Well, clearly this is not a stealth vehicle so (presumably) one of its primary remits will be to let people know they’re being watched and presumably have a chilling effect on crime. But that’s just my speculation. Local officials seem to think it will catch people in the act, making it easier to build cases against them and encouraging “harsher actions” from local judges and St. Lawrence County DA Nicole Duve. Massena Mayor James F. Hidy is quoted in the article as follows:
It’s going to play a great role in the community toward ridding Massena of its undesirables…We’ll have an active surveillance of what’s going on in certain parts of town, and pinpoint individuals who are selling drugs or buying drugs, and when we have video of these people, we can bring them over to our courts.
3. Are there civil liberties issues? The word “undesirables” does raise my hackles a bit, as does that contrasted (further down in this post) with “law-abiding citizens”, and I’m certainly interested to see the reaction in Massena. Oh, and the village PD has recently installed seven surveillance cameras at village parks and intersections.
But Massena village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier says “law abiding residents shouldn’t worry that their privacy may be compromised:” That’s because the cameras and Humvee will only be monitoring public areas and homes where “ongoing criminal activity is suspected of occurring” (presumably they’ll get appropriate clearances before using the cameras to look into homes.) Curry says although the cameras may make people uncomfortable, since they’re in places where people don’t have expectation of privacy, the cameras aren’t going to violate constitutional rights.
To the contrary, says Mayor Hidy,
I think in the areas we’ll be putting these cameras, the law-biding citizens will appreciate the efforts to clean up their neighborhood of criminals…I think everyone should welcome any tool we have to deter what’s going on in the village.
Well, I guess we’ll see!