Brookline traffic cameras left on around clock
Since 2009, the Brookline Police Department has used video cameras posted at major intersections to track a rape suspect, investigate multiple hit and runs and solve crimes including bank robberies and package thefts.
The cameras were instrumental in the investigation of the shooting and stabbing incident on St. Mary’s in January. Footage showed the suspects car making an illegal left turn from Beacon Street to Harvard Street. That footage ultimately led to the arrest of the driver, according to police.
But few questioned why the cameras were on at that time of day – around noon. When installed, the cameras were used between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. – and during special events, such as the Boston Marathon.
Until last year, the cameras had mechanical covers preventing them from recording activity during the day. The shrouds were opened mechanically from the station during the agreed-upon time.
This ability to block the cameras was critical in allowing their installation in the first place.
As the cameras were replaced for wear and tear – at least two of them came down in car crashes – the department looked to replace the covers at the same time. But the business that sold the mechanical covers was no longer making them, said police. At the end of March 2015, five cameras were recording 24/7. By July 1, 2015, all 11 cameras were replaced and recording around the clock. The end of year report to the town and oversight committee notes this on the first slide.
“I had to make a decision,” said Police Chief Daniel O’Leary. “Either turn the cameras off completely or let them run 24/7.”
According to O’Leary, Selectmen and the town administrator were aware.
Town Administrator Mel Kleckner said the chief informed him about the changes early last year.
“I thought it was common knowledge that when there were repairs to be made they couldn’t be made with the covers,” said Kleckner.
According to Kleckner, the oversight committee will discuss recommendations to the selectmen at their upcoming meeting Wednesday, May 18.
“The intent is to fundamentally discuss the use and restrictions at that time,” he said.
Kleckner assumes selectmen will hold a hearing on the matter shortly.
How Town Meeting voted on this in the past
In 2009, the police department billed the cameras as a way to monitor traffic in the event of an emergency (such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster) evacuation and aid in routine police work. But dozens of residents protested, calling it a civil rights infringement, the TAB reported at the time.
After Town Meeting nixed a pilot program in 2009, the chief took a compromise to selectmen: They would install mechanical covers and use the cameras during evening hours and when there was a special reason, such as the Boston Marathon.