BOCA RATON, Fla. – Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched?
Residents and visitors of Boca Raton, Fla., will soon get that feeling with hundreds of cameras turned on to monitor streets, parks and public buildings.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, setup for 63 closed-circuit cameras began last month, but some 200 cameras are sought by law enforcement for blanket coverage of what happens in this affluent town. Officers are hoping to watch screens from a central location to look for anything appearing suspicious.
“The goal is to have a real-time crime center,” Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander told the paper. “We want people to feel safe.”
Authorities say their high-tech cameras can pan, zoom, track license-plate numbers and even recognize faces.
They could track car chases from one device to another, and could be the vanguard of a surveillance network covering all of Palm Beach County if other agencies decide to join.
The cameras are initially being posted inside some city buildings, as well as at parking lots and public parks, but police are also planning to partner with private businesses so they can hook into their monitors, too.
The Big Brother method of surveillance is alarming some civil-liberties advocates who warn the technology being easily abused by police.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Florida is hoping city officials hold public discussions about the details of the network.
Boca Raton, Fla.
The ACLU has reported alleged abuse of such cameras across the country, with police officers said to be focusing in on women without a lawful reason.
“What’s to stop them from zooming in to the window of a residence or on a book someone’s reading at the library?” Howard Simon of the ACLU asked.
In order to prevent that, Chief Alexander said police will develop a set of rules for officers to follow.
“We already entrust our officers with a lot … This is just one more thing,” he said.
While Boca Raton is putting up $528,000 to install the first cameras, the city has secured $700,000 from the U.S. Justice Department to design and build the central crime center and implement a wireless system of eyes in the sky.
Local officials visited Orlando, Chicago and Houston to see their surveillance networks. Chicago has the most-watched people in America, as the ACLU says police in the Windy City have access to some 10,000 cameras.
According to Mike Woika, Boca Raton’s assistant city manager, the locations of the cameras will be made public, with signs posted to alert people they’re being surveilled.
“It’s like having more eyes out there,” Woika told the Sun-Sentinel. “Some people think it’s intrusive, but you have to weigh that vs. your personal safety and security.”
David Ellis, 46, is a local bicycle rider who thinks the cameras are a good idea, providing reassurance to citizens.
“It’s good to prevent crime,” he said. “If you want privacy, stay at home.”