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Security or liberty? Weigh in on video surveillance

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A lot has been in the news lately regarding privacy. Yesterday security cameras caught part of the police-involved shooting death of a homeless man in Lancaster. This is sparking a debate about what people think about the government and police watching what you are doing.

“The video clearly showed the man as the aggressor. There may be another video but we need to do a comprehensive investigation and look at everything, all aspects of this.  It’s pretty rare we get this much information from witnesses and this much video evidence,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman during a news conference about the shooting Monday.    

The video evidence is helping investigators. It also raises the question of security versus liberty.

“I think they’re [security cameras] an invasion of privacy,” said Kati Davis who lives in Lancaster. “It should our prerogative if we want to walk up and down the streets and I don’t think that anyone needs to watch us.”

“I feel safe walking around with the cameras out. Being a woman walking at night-time I feel safe,” said Teresa Watts a Lancaster resident.

There are 161 cameras throughout the city of Lancaster and they are placed primarily at intersections.   The Lancaster Community Safety Coalition, a non-profit agency, monitors all of the surveillance from these cameras. “The cameras are recording 24 hours a day seven days a week. We keep the images on our servers for about 14 days,” said Managing Director of the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition Wes Farmer. “Camera operators go though and look at all of the camera images. So they’re routinely looking at all of the different views throughout the city.”

Farmer says he gets a lot of complaints about privacy. “There are those who are very concerned about privacy. We are very careful for those concerns. We do a number of things. We have strict ethical guidelines. We have a camera on the operators, and look at what the camera operators are looking at. We don’t want to have people followed just because they look odd. They have to be demonstrating some sort of behavior or something that would indicate that a crime has occurred. Or that they are a threat to safety,” said Farmer.

Farmer says police do not regularly monitor the camera activity but they do look if they need to. “They are not going to be moving joysticks, that’s for our camera operators. And again, we’re not a part of the government. We’re sometimes mistaken as part of the police department. We’re community based,” said Farmer.

Other local cities are looking to get similar camera systems in the future.

York City Police Chief Wed Kahley says they are currently looking for private funding to put cameras in York.

Recently Mayor Linda Thompson and Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico unveiled an initiative that will place ten surveillance cameras in high crime areas like Allison Hill, Uptown, and Downtown. The wireless camera system will cost just over $450,000 and will be paid for by gambling proceeds. They should be in place by August.