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'Quick Deploy' Cameras Wouldn't Spy on Protesters, Says Police Chief

Some aldermen have raised concerns about how Somerville police would use two mobile video cameras given to the police department.

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.

Stationary cameras

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
kevin thomas crowley February 15, 2013 at 01:03 PM
a few obsevations. there is always a good common sense reason to encroach on your privacy. just ask the Chinese government. as i write this, MILLIONS of cameras are being installed throughout china to watch the chinese citizens.(BAIN CAPITOL IS THEIR PARTNER!) the goverment uses the same public safety justifications for the need to have, what will be a recording studio on every block. the word camera sounds so innocent. these are highly developed recording systems, not polaroids. of course, the real reason for the recording systems in china is to spy on it's own citizens. i ipugn no such motive to our leaders. they have more than valid concerns for which they sincerely advocate. but to fool yourself and think that down the road they won't be used to spy on you is pure pipedream. leaders in the future will abuse them. i have been to many peaceful political gatherings. when government policies are at issue, the government is there and has employees whose only job is to take your picture. there are others there for public safety, as there should be. privacy, freedom, fear from political intmidation is what is at stake here. somewhere our technological slide into what amounts, in our day, to state totolitanarianism has to stop. your computer, phone, television already belong to the cia, fbi, nasa, the pentagon and many local agencies. it's time to start saying "no." .
Donal Waide February 15, 2013 at 02:13 PM
"He said all recordings captured by cameras in Somerville are destroyed after 14 days." However, if a crime is recorded, then this statement is false. How about setting up cameras for red light runners first? There are plenty of cameras on the streets already. Every phone has captured and posted something. Privacy isn't what it used to be. Deal with it.
Ivan February 15, 2013 at 02:25 PM
The city is $97.4 million in debt and we're spending money on this crap. Thank you Joe!!!
Courtney O'Keefe February 15, 2013 at 03:05 PM
The city did not buy these cameras. They were donated to the Somerville Police Department by Boston Office of Emergency Management. It is legislative item number 194212 should you want to look it up.
Jason April 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Thank you Courtney! This sort of stuff doesn't bother me at the moment. If they where in the winterhill area I would enjoy thier presence, as would the dealers and petty thieves running alike round here.

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