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Small-Town Big Brother: Bunnell Eying Slew of Spy Cameras In City’s South Side

| February 8, 2011

magritte's false mirror

Magritte's 'False Mirror' (1928)

Bunnell city commissioners favor installing eight surveillance cameras at various locations in the city’s south and overwhelmingly black side. One camera would be reserved for the area around the First United Methodist Church and Bank of America downtown, where the homeless gather when the cold-weather shelter there is open.

Commissioners are looking at surveillance cameras as a crime deterrent in drug-ridden zones, and as a way to expand the reach of the city police department, which is short-staffed: police officers would be able to conduct surveillance and zoom in and out on license plates, people’s faces or activity in streets or possibly through windows from their laptops, their desks or, conceivably—if they have the proper sign-ons—any computer. The cameras would be equipped with 220x zoom capability.

“We have the whole south side, the whole infested area, under surveillance with these eight cameras,” Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones said.

Four of five Bunnell city commission members conceptually approved of video surveillance in a meeting Monday evening. (They didn’t vote: it was a workshop where voting is not allowed.) They didn’t question whether the system should be in place, but how, and to what extent, it should be installed, considering the costs. Commissioner Elbert Tucker ridiculed the notion that drug dealers wouldn’t quickly adapt, and move out of sight of the cameras without leaving the area to do their business, since the cameras don’t by any means blanket the whole south side.

The initial $25,000 cost of buying and installing the cameras would be borne by the Flagler County Housing Authority, whose 132 subsidized housing units are in the area that would be under surveillance.  But the city would have to pay the annual maintenance cost. If the cameras were tied to a wireless system, it would cost the city $3,341, according to early calculations by the city’s police department. Commissioners are willing to pay that price. But a wireless system is not as reliable as a hard-wired system. It’s susceptible to bad weather, physical obstacles and heavy use: if two officers are using the system at the same time, transmission will be slower.

A hard-wired system is more expensive: $16,000. But it would be more reliable. It would also be a recurring cost annually. (Both prices include warranties in case the cameras are vandalized or otherwise damaged.)

The spy cameras' proposed locations. Click on the image for larger view.

Commissioners left a final decision on spy cameras to a latter day, when several pending questions are answered. Among those questions, as summed up by Mayor Catherine Robinson: Can the city install fewer cameras and still have an effective surveillance system? What would be the cost of moving the cameras periodically to keep people under surveillance off balance? If the city starts with a wireless system, could it go to a hard-wired system without committing to a long-term contract on a wireless system? The city is also interested in installing dummy cameras, but those haven’t been priced.

And when Tucker asked what evidence, by means of statistics, the proposal was based on, neither the police chief nor the administration could provide them. Tucker asked that evidence justifying the cameras be produced.

At no point did any questions arise as to the cameras’ intrusive nature, what City Attorney Sid Nowell referred to, after the meeting, as the Big Brother potential. Nowell said many cities have already installed surveillance cameras on streets and other places; Palm Coast is installing them in public parks. And there is no presumption of privacy for anyone walking a public street. But City Manager Armando Martinez said the cameras would not be installed without proper signage clearly telling residents that they are under surveillance. Martinez said he had no intention of doing anything secretive.

Jones, the police chief, was asked during the meeting if he’d analyzed other cities’ experiments with cameras. He said he’d spoken by phone with a captain—whose name he could not recall—in Orlando and with someone in Daytona Beach. Beyond that, there were no additional queries.

The spy cameras the city would use are the Panasonic day-night dome model WV-NS202A. They’d be installed in a “vandal-resistant dome.” The system would be provided by Web Watch Dogs, a Palm Coast company. The city did not bid out the contract. Nor has it been awarded it yet, since the commission hasn’t formally adopted the plan, though the Flagler County Housing Authority is ready to contributed $25,000. Authority Director Michael Boyd said the money would come out of the authority’s reserves, and cameras would be “to the benefit of the housing authority” should they push drug dealers out of the area.

The Bunnell Police Department has had a troubled history for the past 10 years including, in 2009 and 2010, cases of police misconduct, intimidation and extortion of drivers passing through the city, as documented by a State Attorney’s investigation, and shoddy record-keeping within the department. Jones and Martinez say they’ve been cleaning up the department. Surveillance cameras in the hands of police officers add another tool that can either enhance or undermine police work.

Jim purdy public defender

Jim Purdy

“Every tool that the police have, we must assume will be appropriately used,” James Purdy, the public defender for Florida’s 7th Judicial District, which includes Flagler County, said on Tuesday. “A lot of departments have taken out dashboard cameras or dash-cams from patrol vehicles, because frequently they show things that the police do not want shown. I won’t say frequently: sometimes they do, and frequently they’ll show that a person who’s being arrested for DUI doesn’t appear as intoxicated on camera as the police officer says on paper.” He added: “Any time you have cameras, it cans serve a good purpose for law enforcement in helping to eradicate crime but it’s a two-edged sword as it can show the bad action or improper, unprofessional conduct of law enforcement, as we’ve seen in some videos where you see some police officers arrest someone and then administer a little street justice.”

The effectiveness of policing by cameras, however, remains suspect.

“There are surveillance cameras like that in most big cities on most streets, and whether they assist in crime prevention depends on the quality of the camera,” Purdy said. “You see a lot of these shots on TV of cameras picking up an incident occurring, but usually it’s two figures that cannot be identified, so whether they’ll assist in the prosecution is a matter of speculation, other than to let the jury see than an incident did in fact occur. As a general rule they don’t show sufficient detail to be able to identify a person committing the crime. Whether they’re appropriate for a city the size of Bunnel is a policy decision to be made by the elected officials of the city. Whether it’ll be of assistance is another story.”

Those issues prompted Tucker, the dissenting commissioner, to question the wisdom of spending any money on a system with a questionable return.

“If I was a drug person and I knew where the camera was, why would I go in front of the camera?” Tucker said. “To put these cameras up just to catch a 10-second drug deal, to me, is ludicrous.”

Elbert Tucker (© FlaglerLive)

“If we’re trying to deter something, then we need to have stats on what we’re trying to deter. If we’re going to deter drug traffic, child abuse—I don’t see how that generally occurs outside, that generally occurs inside I would think. Mighty have a fistfight outside. I don’t know how many people have been arrested for fighting outside. I don’t know. But before I would jump to even have the Housing Authority spend $25,000 and us spend $13,000 a year, I’d sure want to know what kind of statistics that we’re trying to prevent that we have on the books right now, in order to pay this top prevent that. It’s cost-benefit. What are we going to benefit?”

“Mr. Tucker,” Commissioner Jimmy Flynt then said, “have you ever seen a person beat their kid for a block and a half with a stick?”

Tucker: “Have you?”

Flynt: “Yes I have.”

Tucker: “D’you call 911?”

Flynt: “Yes I did.”

Tucker: “That’s how you do it.”

Flynt: “But I didn’t have to look at statistics to know it’s there.”

Tucker and Flynt then briefly talked over each other and were stopped by Robinson: “We’re not going to get anywhere with that tonight because we don’t have the statistics in front of us so there’s no point in you two arguing about statistics.”

Flynt: “I’m not arguing there. Knowing what goes on in the streets and worrying about statistics is two different things.”

Tucker: “Well, madam Mayor, statistics do show a trend. Statistics are very valuable. If they weren’t, people wouldn’t use them for goodness sake.”

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21 Responses for “Small-Town Big Brother: Bunnell Eying Slew of Spy Cameras In City’s South Side”

  1. Rob says:

    “We have the whole south side, the whole infested area, under surveillance with these eight cameras,” Bunnell Police Chief Arthur Jones said.

    Does anyone hear anything out of order with this statement.

    Someone send this man packing.

  2. Anonymous but smarter than you says:

    Pointless! The dealers will just move out of the way of the cameras or inside someones house. Police have a hard enough time spotting drug deals with their own two eyes, let alone a camera from 50ft away. This is just another way to make it look like the commission in doing something productive when they are obviously not. Tucker’s got the right idea here. In fact, instead of spending $13,000 a year, or whatever the number is, on BS cameras… spend it on undercover officers, unmarked patrol cars, controlled purchases of drugs… stuff that shows results, not this crap. Give the money to the Police Department!!!

  3. JonQPublik says:

    @ Rob,

    That jumped out at me the moment I read it. Absolute poor choice of words.

    Also, I’d fathom a guess that he misspoke, speaking as if an electronic surveillance system was already in use. Curious, isn’t it? Though, it would not surprise me.

  4. Kurt says:

    i love elbert tucker and that man needs to be mayor of bunnell

  5. Butch says:

    This a very poor use of taxpayer funds. Most of these thugs will simply not do their dealings in view of the camera and those who do get caught will simply be back on the streets a few months later. The commissioners complain about spending $5,000 on the carver gym but barely blink an eye at spending 5x that amount on hi-tech surveillance cameras? Unfortunately, it appears that most of the commissioners aren’t interested in improving the living conditions of the poor children being raised in these projects but want to be sure to have the cameras ready to capture evidence for their rap sheet. I don’t usually agree with Tucker”s decision making but he has this one absolutely spot on.

  6. . says:

    Yes lets not try other ways of stoping crime.

  7. The Piranha says:

    And the hits just keep on coming… With more voices they hear and responses they read (Jones reads Flagler Live) a difference will be made. Flynt is up for election soon and it will then be up to us to make a difference. “Infested area” just screams for a further public explanation at the next forum. Hey Chief, like it or not you were appointed by the former (but still collecting because Bunnell has so much money) public safety director/city manager to this position to make decisions. Proactive police work, intelligence, analysis and arresting those who sell drugs cleans a neighborhood. This camera system is just an excuse for what is lacking with the Bunnell Police Department. Who is watching the camera Chief, you at home? the cop in his patrol car sitting on the side of the road? Mr. Martinez? You just don’t have the resources and personnel to get the job done but who needed that $270,000 savings anyway. Nice try though, I bet you can probably sell this to to most of the commissioners that this will be the “difference maker” in your cleaning up your so called “infested area”.

  8. confused says:

    Why not give Mr Martinez the “reserve officer” badge and have him patrol that area so he can earn the $7,500 hes getting for nothing!!!!

  9. Honest Abe says:

    Confused, might not be a good idea, reason being is your interpretation of the word earn versus the article published in the Miami New Times titled “Rumors Flying Like Bullets”.

  10. w.ryan says:

    I like smart thinking individuals! Butch and Piranha, u’re on the money!!! While technology can help battle crime and help enhance public safety, my experience says it’s time for community policing. Washington Heights in Manhattan,N.Y. comes to mind. Look up the “Clean Heights initiative”. You’ll be amazed how many people in South Bunnell would cooperate with Government. As I see it police cannot separate themselves from the people. Even the statement on the patrol car indicate that the police is an occupying army. Infestation is inappropriate and must have been miss-spoken from Chief Jones. I’ve spoken to him numerous time and he is sensitive to South Bunnell. Change that mindset of the people in Bunnell and change will come. Video camera’s is just a waste of money. Find resouces for a couple of cops to patrol that part of Bunnell coupled with routine omni presence by Sheriff units and Bunnell Radio cars. Keep in mind how we all respond to empty patrol cars parked along areas of Belle Terre.

  11. w.ryan says:

    Here is one of the items from my “Clean Heights” search that I did. This was in the early nineties. I did comb through quite a bit of pages on google.

  12. Just the Facts says:

    Piranha hit the nail on the head. You could give Bunnell all the hi tech gadgets you want, the fact of the matter is that you don’t have the police officers to do the job properly. Jones is only sensitive to the south end on the outside. Inwardly his thoughts and his comment or word choice “infestation” is right on the money consistent with what he really thinks. Jones is a liar, and their is plenty of proof for that. His appointment was a political move by Martinez, nothing more. Jones is not qualified to be a Sergeant of Police, never mind Chief of Police. HES NEVER BEEN A SUPERVISOR!!!

  13. The Piranha says:

    JTF, I don’t think it’s quite fair to say Jones has never been a supervisor. I agree he lacks leadership and the qualities of being a good supervisor able to make important and sound decisions, but a title is a title none the less. I believe he was probably a good school resource deputy while working in south Florida and his expertise may be in that field but if he were at the podium, I believe he wound flop like a fish out of water and the reporter was accurate in their quotation.
    WR, I agree with you that the majority of Bunnell would cooperate with government but the question is, which one? Bunnell’s government? The one in which the mayor sees through rose color glasses?, a police department who’s supervisors when promoted by Martinez/Jones get arrested months later? a commissioner who was getting inappropriate tows sent his way (illegal I might add) and a government who makes no attempt to repay for those illegal tows? There should be a class action lawsuit against the City of Bunnell for the thousands of dollars they collected on that scheme. There are a few real good cops in Bunnell that must feel imprisoned by their leadership.
    Technology is great when used in the right situation but in this case I can’t agree. Cameras should be used in parks, high rise buildings and the courtyards they surround, not as cops you can’t afford to hire. BPD typically has two cops patrolling at any one given time . Are we to see them on the side of the road watching their computer screens for the next video crime to never take place on wasted money?
    The commissioners had their opportunity last year to be covered by Flagler County at a savings of some $270,000. It would have also included much more resources, better trained cops, investigators and narcotics team. Instead of new cameras, Bunnell might want to look for a new government.

  14. W.Ryan says:

    Piranha, I don’t now the logistics to comment fully on the patrol needs of Bunnell. Sadly it seems the political environment is poor. Frankly, organizational corporation between the Sheriffs’ Office and Bunnell must be in effect to achieve the desired results. If there is an area that is a high crime /drug area within the county, cooperation among both law enforcement agencies should work in order to solve the problem for the well being of the county. Drugs are an infectious disease in any community and lends to the issues of violence and other crimes. That is why police presence by all possible law enforcement agencies is a must. Obviously, two cops isn’t enough to do the job, One arrest of anyone hampers efforts. Can’t the Sheriff loan Deputies for a short time until the area is cleaned? You are right. Bunnell may be better off with new leadership.

  15. bunnell resident says:

    i think the city of bunnell would be a good project for our new govenor elect. i think elbert tucker should be the mayor of bunnell and i would like to see the govenor clean house on the city of bunnell.i am a life long resident of this city and i have never seen the magnitude of some of the things taking place now.

  16. bunnell resident says:

    i think fhe bunnell police dept.has the wrong idea concerning the cameras on the south end of the city. from everything i have read lately maybe they should have the cameras on themselves.

  17. Rudy Smith says:

    Police State… I say implant cameras into the heads of each commissioner, the Mayor, and all police officers, so we can see what they are up to. 1984, please come back…. I miss you.

  18. Sal Pilchard says:

    City of Bunnell spend taxpayers $$$$ for surveillance of church, do they want to know my prayers? Does the City need to know who attends a church? Thomas Jefferson implored citizens to “watch” their government with the same fervor as that with which the government “watches” them. But our government will arrest you if you try to.

  19. MeAgain says:

    I took infestation to mean Crime infested and not a derogatory reference to the law abiding citizens who reside there.

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