Tampa may keep RNC surveillance cameras

Published On: Sep 09 2012 07:41:11 PM EDT
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TAMPA, Fla. -

The host city for the Republican National Convention may keep a network of surveillance cameras that monitored crowds during the gathering.

Police switched off the cameras after the convention ended Aug. 30, but the equipment remains on light poles, traffic posts and buildings in downtown Tampa.

The Tampa City Council will consider what to do with the cameras at a Sept. 20 workshop.

Some city council members tell The Tampa Tribune (http://bit.ly/O5artx ) that the cameras could be moved to other parts of the city, where they could help prevent crime.

"If you put them in areas of high crime, people won't look at it like an invasion of privacy, but as a deterrent," said Councilman Frank Reddick.

The wireless, closed-circuit, 60-camera surveillance system cost $2 million. It was purchased through a $50 million grant earmarked by Congress for convention security.

The city council approved the cameras in March on the condition that a workshop be scheduled after the convention to decide what to do with them.

Councilman Mike Suarez said he wants to know how much it would cost to maintain the network.

"We've had some neighborhoods who want them for code enforcement issues," Suarez said. "I was surprised. But there is a cost to maintaining these cameras."

Police Chief Jane Castor says the cameras were "invaluable" for traffic and crowd control during the weeklong convention.

"We were not proactively announcing where they are," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "But the reality is they're posted in public places, like light poles and intersections."

Tampa resident Jon Gales, a Web developer and programmer, created a website mapping all the cameras, which have tall antennas attached to them.

"They're fairly easy to spot," he said.

Cities typically keep similar surveillance cameras installed for events such as the convention, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. For example, eight cameras installed for the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., are still in use.

"Almost every time, the system stays in place longer than it was intended for," said Baylor Johnson, spokesman for the Florida chapter of the ACLU.

The organization wants the cameras in Tampa removed.

"This is an impulse, to blanket public spaces with surveillance. But that impulse is wrong," Johnson said. "The monitoring of citizens can quickly become invasive. They become a tool of potential abuses of power."