Eyes on Oxford: Police to install surveillance cameras downtown
by Eddie Burkhalter
Oct 10, 2013 | 6021 views |  0 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Traffic flows at the Oxford intersection of Main and Choccolocco. Oxford police hope to install security cameras at the city's downtown district. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Traffic flows at the Oxford intersection of Main and Choccolocco. Oxford police hope to install security cameras at the city's downtown district. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Visitors to downtown Oxford can soon expect to be watched from on high. Oxford police plan to mount four surveillance cameras in the historic area later this year.

The $75,000 wireless camera system will allow patrol and communications officers to control the cameras and view and record live video of downtown.

The use of surveillance cameras by law enforcement continues to spread, said Oxford police investigator Lt. L.G. Owens said.

“A prime example is overseas. Downtown London is covered up, and you’re going to see more of that come into place,” Owens said.

Surveillance cameras can be an effective tool to combat crime, some experts say, if used well. However, the increased use of such technology concerns many privacy advocates, who say governments are keeping too much information on private citizens.

Oxford police also installed patrol-car-mounted license plate readers this summer. The devices can detect the figures on a license plate, then automatically run that information through a list of stolen vehicles, stolen tags, missing persons and homicide suspects.

Other areas of the city, like the Oxford Exchange shopping center, are heavily covered by security cameras, explained Oxford Lt. L.G. Owens. The new cameras will give downtown businesses an added level of security, he said.

Owens was uncertain about the details of the new downtown camera system, and referred questions about the cost of its operation and camera locations to Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge.

Several attempts this week to reach Partridge for comment were unsuccessful.

Owens said he understands some of those concerns, but personally feels that people doing nothing wrong have little to worry about.

“This is one of the things we face in America, with technology rapidly spreading,” said Susan Watson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

Networks of cameras and readers capable of storing movements is intrusive to innocent citizens, Watson said.

Partridge has said data from the city’s license plate readers is erased at the end of each patrol shift.

An extensive 2011 study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington D.C.-based think tank, found that surveillance cameras in some urban areas lowered crime by as much as 25 percent.

The study found, however, that much depended on how the systems were used. Cameras that automatically pan can miss portions of crimes in progress, the study noted.

With so much information being collected, Owens said, the need has increased for law enforcement to understand how to use that data while still protecting the civil liberties and privacy of the innocent.

To help train local and statewide agencies, Oxford police hosted a training session Tuesday given by the Institute for Intergovernmental Research. The Florida-based nonprofit corporation conducts criminal justice training and research.

The sessions are held nationwide and paid for with federal money through the U.S. Department of Justice.

Numerous law enforcement agencies attending Tuesday’s meeting heard from experts about how and when to collect and share data on individuals, Owens explained.

“If you’ve got any information that you keep in a database, you’ve got to be mindful of privacy issues and civil rights,” Owens said.

While discussion at the training session centered around federal laws that protect private citizen’s information, Owens said, details of just how that’s done aren’t made public.

The sessions are closed to the public and the press, said John Czernis, senior research associate at the Institute for Intergovernmental Research, “because it’s law-enforcement sensitive.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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