Tampa Police: surveillance cameras have proven useful - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa Police: surveillance cameras have proven useful

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We now know it was video from the Lord & Taylor Department store in Boston that gave us those first images of the Boston bombing suspects: the somewhat grainy black-and-white shots that gave the public the first glimpse of the Tsarnaev brothers.

Some see the electronic eyes as a major supplement in helping police stay ahead of criminals or tracing their steps after a crime. Others see the ever-expanding world of cameras as a risk; an infringement of civil liberties.

"In the private sector you're on camera almost all the time: the grocery store, the bank, the gas station," said Asst. Chief John Bennett, of the Tampa Police Department. "They've proven useful."

In case you missed it the city is also utilizing video for itself now. It happened after Tampa bought $2 million worth of cameras for the 2012 Republican National Convention through a federal grant.

"When you get an event that rises to the level of a national special security event, which is what the RNC was, there's a certain level of risk which comes with managing that kind of event," Bennett said. "So you really do have a responsibility; you have something layered in your security plan in the technology realm, which is what we had."

"Obviously it proved valuable for Boston in that unfortunate tragedy."

Bennett says the city's camera systems have already proved useful. During Gasparilla, officers used the equipment to scan the crowds for suspicious bags. In November they tracked down a suspect they wanted for an attack on a woman in a parking garage.

"We've already had a serious crime with the surveillance system in place that we were able to solve within about a half a day," Bennett said. "By the close of business - we had somebody in custody."

But when the city council voted on whether to pay for the $186,000 a year to keep the cameras going - some residents worried about privacy and civil liberties.

"They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberties nor safety," said community activist Mark Klutho, who was quoting Ben Franklin.

Some groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, fear that police could unconstitutionally misuse cameras. Take this story just last year, for instance, from Boston's CBS station.

Police started using high-tech cameras to scan license plates and the ACLU wanted more information about who gets recorded and how long police keep the recordings.

"It's basically a way around the Fourth Amendment," Kade Crockford of the ACLU told CBS Boston. "That requires that police get a warrant in order to search our belongings or find out where we're going, if they're doing it over a long period of time."

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