Thursday, September 20, 2007

Council OKs surveillance cameras around city

Council OKs surveillance cameras around city
This will be the subject of my 3-minutes of public comment on Tuesday.

I've talked in the past about cameras.

I'm in favor of all the cameras being pointed at the public officials, the public treasury and the authorities. Why can't we listen in or watch the meetings of the PAT Board? Why are the Ethics Hearing Board meetings no put on the internet or cable TV?

Until we have complete access to open records and open meetings with cameras and technology -- we should not talk about pointing cameras anywhere else.

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Council OKs surveillance cameras around city
Thursday, September 20, 2007
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to use a $2.59 million federal port security grant to start a citywide surveillance camera system got its first OK from City Council yesterday, with enthusiasm for the proposed electronic eyes trumping privacy concerns.

"It would be my hope that we would be looking at some of the crime stats and see where the greatest amount of crime is occurring in the city," and put cameras there, said Councilwoman Tonya Payne, whose district includes the Hill District and parts of the North Side. "I want to know who's shooting whom."

If council gives its final approval Tuesday, the administration would be allowed to take the U.S. Homeland Security Department money, a fraction of which would go to hiring a consultant to help design the system. The city, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., the U.S. Coast Guard and several other agencies have formed a committee that will choose from among six national consultants.

The consultants and committee would then sort through ideas already submitted by 21 surveillance camera firms, and craft a request for proposals detailing what the city wants to build.

City Information Systems Director Howard Stern said he hopes to have the core of the system, plus some cameras near port areas, in place next year.

In addition to the federal funds, the city plans to spend $862,000 of its own money on the effort. It will have to find more money, however, if it is to meet Mr. Ravenstahl's stated goal of putting cameras citywide, Mr. Stern said, but building the right technological backbone is the key to the system.

"We want technology that allows us to expand the cameras into the neighborhoods," he said.

Councilman William Peduto asked that the administration add language promising to draft a privacy policy to the legislation before Tuesday's final vote. Mr. Stern said he would comply.

"We plan on having conversations with the [American Civil Liberties Union]," Mr. Stern said. "We are going to look at what other cities have done."

Council members also voted to allocate $135,000 over three years to equip Animal Control Division workers to euthanize captured wildlife. The money will cover a veterinarian's consulting fee and the cost of drugs. The vote means that role won't be contracted out as long as the administration can find a secure building in which to store the drugs and conduct euthanization.

Council postponed a vote on hiring Pine-based Co-exprise Inc. to conduct an auction and identify a new electricity supplier for city facilities. Mr. Peduto demanded a special meeting on the subject before any vote is taken.

First published on September 20, 2007 at 12:00 am
Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.