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They’re Watching You: Palm Coast Council Turned on by Spy Cameras at Public Parks

| June 29, 2010

The city can now spy on park-goers from ordinary computers networked to the cameras at the park.

Long infatuated with spy-and-snap cameras at six Palm Coast intersections, the the Palm Coast City Council wants surveillance cameras in all its city parks and trails. It’s particularly interested in having them at Ralph Carter Park near Rymfire Elementary. Six such cameras are being installed at a cost of $23,000, and a recurring cost of at least $2,200 a year. It’s not clear if the cost of vandalism at the park exceeds that of the camera installations and man-hours associated with maintaining or monitoring them.

Nor is it clear how the city is getting around the public record issue. Public records may not be destroyed outside a rigorous set of criteria and timelines. The cameras are recording up to four days’ worth of imagery. After four days, the digital recording, unless it’s needed for an investigation, is destroyed. The city is creating the public record, not the sheriff’s office (which provides policing services for Palm Coast). As such, the records created by surveillance cameras fall under municipal public record rules, not law enforcement rules. In May, the Florida Attorney General’s office classified traffic camera imagery such as those used in Palm Coast as a public record.

Neither the matter of cost-benefit nor the matter of public records matter was brought up when the council discussed the new cameras in a workshop Tuesday morning.

“This is something the city council said it wanted. We’re trying it,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. “What I want to reiterate is six months from now, I want a report back saying, wow, these have been effective, we need to expand the program, or we haven’t see them make a bit of difference.”

Surveillance cameras aren’t entirely new. The city’s water treatment plant has some of the 25 security cameras already planted around city facilities town. But surveillance cameras have never been in Palm Coast’s public parks, or the county’s for that matter, unless the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office used one of its mobile cameras—as it did around Ralph Carter Park in spring—without public knowledge. According to Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon, when the city had an issue with people using a “cut-through” in a vacant lot around the park earlier this year, deputies “actually mounted a camera up in the tree to watch that and monitor and that type of thing. The officers can see that in their cars, and they can pull that up and monitor it.”

Sheriff Don Fleming confirmed in May, without specifying the cameras’ whereabouts, that secret surveillance does take place.

There’ll be no secrecy about the placement of the cameras at Ralph Carter Park. “The concept here was the minimum amount of  cameras we could put in place to test out the site, but still get the effect,” Courtney Violette told the council in a briefing on the surveillance system. The system was the result of meetings with the sheriff’s office, the city’s parks department and maintenance officials, and the city administration. The cameras are trained where most of the alleged vandalism is said to take place—around the restrooms, the basketball court area, the benches, and the skate park.” More cameras could easily be added for about $1,000 each.

The cameras can be monitored from city staffers’ home computers. But they won’t necessarily be.

“Currently we don’t have anybody that’s going to be monitoring this. The idea is that if something bad happens, we’ll be able to go knock on the door and try to figure out who it is, you know, those types of things,” Landon said. “We will have the ability, like the rest rooms have alarms on them, etc., that if the alarm goes off, somebody will be able to pull it up on the computer at home or wherever.”

The city plans to extend its high-speed fiber network to the sheriff’s dispatch center behind the county government complex, at which point the sheriff’s office would have the capability to monitor the system. “They very likely aren’t going to sit there monitor all the time, but if the alarm goes off, if someone calls, then they can look up, pull that up on the monitor,” Landon said.

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7 Responses for “They’re Watching You: Palm Coast Council Turned on by Spy Cameras at Public Parks”

  1. trebordadda says:

    Pierre: Stop copying us! Here in London, we have more cameras (they call it CCTV) watching our every move on every corner of every street. It is overbearing and the policy is now coming under review with the incoming Cameron government.

    Good job exposing it. There are way better means to enhance security and a sense of community than by putting cameras everywhere (try building more parks or investing more in sports and after school programs).

    Nice job on your site. Glad to see all the talent you have on your board supporting this fantastic FlaglerLive project. Florida is all the better for it.

  2. Attila says:

    When you go to the bank, department store, convenience store, gas station, supermarket, drive on I-95,I-4, you are on camera. they have popped up everywhere . in peoples homes from real cctv security to a nanny cam. where I work I am under the eye of the camera and I have worked on the other side of surveillance and honestly unless you like watching people pick their nose or scratch themselves you don’t get much input. that said I have never liked it, and felt dirty watching but at the same time I know it is a silent un-blinking ever awake witness that will not lie exaggerate or omit the facts. I think we are stuck with this piece of technology as our constant companion and we had better get busy and make strict laws to protect what little privacy we ever had.

  3. Citizen says:

    The big difference in the above post is that this is a public place, not a private business. On they can see traffic but not vehicle tags and even if they can see tags there are laws governing looks by license plate. This is far more personal, it’s a park. Increase patrols in the area, hire a part-time security guard. The commission has a responsibility to protect liberty more so than just fiscal prudence. We do not live in a police state and the price we pay for that may just have to be occasional vandalism or a more expensive solution to stop the vandalism. Freedom isn’t free in many senses of the word.

  4. Itchey says:

    The Constitution and subsequent rights in a nutshell and loosely interpeted means that a person has a right to privacy in his home, or other limited rights where they assume or are led to believe they have the right to privacy. The courts have stated that somewhat under limited circumstances that also implies persons have a right to be secure and private in their automobile. There should not be any expectation of privacy in any public place like a park.

    As for freedom of information and the publics right to know, Yes if you need or want a copy of the video it should be provided to you free from the city to view at their chosen place ie city hall, during normal business hours. If you want a copy they should charge you for the labor and material expense to review and make such copy. That will keep them in full compliance with the law.

    There should be signage placed at the park and public notice given that cameras are or may be in use. This will suffice as warning to parents regarding the video of their children in the park. Many public venue’s are video taped all of the time, the Super Bowl Crowds, Play Off Games, World Series, etc. etc.

    Personally I think there has been shown a need for extra security at Carter Park due to the people that chose to frequent that area and their actions therin. I applaud the Commision & Law Enforcement for stepping up and being proactive rather than reactive to a crime problem.

    If you have no expectation of privacy then there are no privacy issues. Video is cheaper in the long run that eyewitness testimony from a security guard, or Park overseerer.

    Bravo to the leaders that are thinking ahead rather than reacting to the past.

  5. PCRes says:

    I applaud the idea because it’s public property. If they were spying on my house, then I’d have a problem. It’s public. There have been unsolved crimes (armed robbery, if that’s the right term). When there’s a “don’t snitch” policy taking place, extra measures need to be taken. Unfortunately, the reporter showed where the cameras are recording. Expect problems in the parking lot, field, and playground. The playground was where one of the crimes took place.

  6. starfyre says:

    i love the cameras–they catch kids in the back of pickup trucks

  7. Justin Birchman says:

    Orwell was only off by a couple of decades, Big Brother is watching…

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