Two "quick deploy" cameras recently given to the Somerville Police Department would not be used to monitor protests or crowds, according to Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello.
They would be used to augment surveillance work conducted by eight stationary cameras already in place within the city, the police chief said.
Speaking to the Somerville Board of Aldermen Thursday, Pasquarello said the department would not use the cameras to monitor protests. That "would not be the purpose at all," the police chief said.
Concerns about First Amendment rights
Some aldermen have voiced concerns about the so-called "quick deploy" cameras, arguing for the need to protect residents' constitutional rights.
Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, speaking at a Jan. 24 Board of Aldermen meeting, said, "We have to be really conscientious here about people’s First Amendment rights." She said if police recorded video of protests it could discourage peaceful demonstrators from exercising their rights to free assembly.
The issue was the topic of a recent Boston.com article, "New Somerville police cameras raise questions about civil liberties."
"Quick deploy" could be misleading
Pasquarello Thursday told the Board of Aldermen the two cameras, which the city received through a grant from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, would be used for "criminal investigations," homeland security and monitoring evacuation routes, just like the city's eight stationary police cameras.
He said the "quick deploy" cameras look very much like the ones "you would see in Davis Square." They're a "little smaller," he said, but still somewhat bulky. His point was they're not small and hidden.
It also seems, based on Pasquarello's description, the term "quick deploy" is somewhat misleading. The cameras, while mobile, do not set up in minutes.
At-Large Alderman Bruce Desmond asked if police could have used the cameras at a December incident at the Holiday Inn in East Somerville in which hundreds of clubgoers spilled into the hotel's parking lot and police broke up a fight. The unruly crowd was so large Medford and state police had to respond, and later in the evening the fracas led to a shooting at a nearby gas station.
Pasquarello said, "No, we would not use the quick deploys" in that situation because they're "too complicated" to set up on short notice.
How would they be used?
The chief provided an example of when police might use the cameras: In 2011 there was a series of sexual assaults in the Davis Square area. During the investigation into such a case, police might set up the cameras over a period of time to aid in the investigation, Pasquarello said.
He said all recordings captured by cameras in Somerville are destroyed after 14 days.
A call for guidelines
Even with the chief's assurances, Gewirtz argued the city needs to adopt some more concrete guidelines and policies in connection to the cameras. "I wanted to create some sort of system where a check can be in place," she said.
The police department has guidelines for using its stationary cameras, Pasquarello said; Gewirtz and some other aldermen would like to see similar guidelines for the "quick deploy" cameras.
The aldermen kept the matter in the Public Health and Public Safety Committee for further review.
In regard to the eight stationary cameras in Somerville, Pasquarello said they're located in the following areas:
- Assembly Square Mall
- Around the intersection of Mystic Avenue and Interstate 93
- Lower Broadway
- In the area of Highland Avenue and McGrath Highway
- Union Square
- Davis Square
- The Community Path, which has two cameras