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Somerville police chief defends 'quick deploy' cameras

Posted by Jarret Bencks  February 15, 2013 10:21 AM

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Movable surveillance cameras offered to Somerville would be used like any other security cameras in the city, and not be used to gather intelligence or spy on residents, Somerville police Chief Thomas Pasquarello said Thursday during a Board of Aldermen meeting.

"They wouldn't be used for intelligence," Pasquarello said. "...These are large cameras that are really put in main intersections."

Called "quick deploy," the cameras are similar to normal security cameras, only slightly smaller and can be moved more easily, Pasquarello said. Somerville Police has been offered two of them as a gift from the Boston Office of Emergency Management, who purchased them through a federal Homeland Security grant.

The cameras have drawn some criticism over their potential use in violating first amendment rights. Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz said she did not want to approve the acceptance of the cameras until regulations on their use in the city were created, ensuring the cameras aren't used to gather information on political movements or protests. 

The aldermen considered whether to approve the cameras during their Thursday meeting.

"I (want) to create some sort of system where there's a check in place so that sort of thing could be prevented," Gewirtz said.

Alderman Bob Trane also said he wanted regulations for the cameras.

"Having a tool like this in tool box is a good idea, as long as we have rules in place to ensure it isn't used in an improper manner," he said.

Pasquarello said the cameras are similar to permanently-mounted security cameras along the community path in Davis Square, only they are be more mobile, allowing police to move them to areas that have seen an uptick in criminal activity, he said. The cameras do not record audio, he said.

Alderman President Bill White called for the proposal to accept the cameras to be referred to the public safety committee to draft rules on their use. Alderman John Connolly, president of the public safety committee said he did not want the cameras to be voted on until all the aldermen were prepared to support them.

"Some people think I'm in a hurry to move this," he said. "I'm not going to move this until eveyone is ready to do so."

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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