COLUMBIA, 5/4/11 (Beat Byte) -- In an unwitting nod to George Orwell, Columbia police officer Chris Kelley set off a firestorm last month when he told the Columbia Tribune that -- per a public vote authorizing surveillance cameras last year -- City Hall would install eight motion-activated cameras at four locations, with a plan to "keep them unmarked, or 'plain Jane,' so the cameras blend in with the environment."
But the ordinance demands just the opposite: any downtown surveillance cameras must be conspicuous. No Orwellian surveillance in our town. Former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala (left) made that case in an April 28 letter to the Columbia City Council.
Mr. Mayor and Council:
Please allow me to offer some historical perspective with regard to the "Downtown Safety Camera" ballot referendum and subsequent ordinance.
In 2009, when the Council decided not to reverse its previous decision to install "Downtown Public Street and Sidewalk Surveillance Cameras" and to defer to a public referendum, we were told by the City Attorney that all stipulations of the ballot language (B352-09 Ballot Language, attached) would have to be implemented.
One of those stipulations was the "conspicuous" placement of the surveillance cameras. Though the ballot language gave the Police Chief some discretion, that discretion with regard to camera placement was limited to the determination of crime "hot spots." It did not authorize inconspicuous placement of the cameras. On the contrary, one of the early arguments against the cameras was based on local government encroachment on Fourth Amendment Rights with regard to "hidden" public surveillance.
Report REP 100-10 (9/13/10) presented to the Council on 9/20/10 contained a Columbia Police Department Report dated 9/27/10 by Renee Sinclair entitled "Downtown Surveillance Camera Project" (REP 100-10, attached) in which the the conspicuous placement of surveillance cameras was affirmed in the Wants, Needs and Requirements Section on page 1, paragraph 3, "They must be overt and conspicuous ..."
I would urge you to follow the law as it is written.
Kelley most recently said his words were "taken out of context."