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.
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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.