PAWTUCKET – Citing concerns over privacy and constitutionality, the City Council rejected a motion that would have asked Chief Tina Goncalves to request a free 60-day extension on Flock Safety’s camera system.
Councilor Mark Wildenhain, speaking at the Dec. 22 meeting, addressed a letter from Goncalves stating that officials are trying to identify a source of funding to continue the program. With the cameras now shut off, he said, and while the chief is researching a source of funding to get it back up and running again, an extension would turn the cameras back on at least temporarily and allow officials to highlight their proficiency as crime-fighting tools.
But Councilor Terry Mercer said he’s of the opposite mind. He recalled that when the program first rolled out, there was a lot of back and forth and consternation about whether the license plate-reading camera system was appropriate, as well as questions on why Pawtucket was chosen for the program and how the whole trial program for three communities came about.
Mercer said he’s glad the trial period is over, saying he doesn’t know why the city would ask for an additional period of time with the program, whether it costs money or not.
“I’m just a little bit antsy or leery about going further and further down the path of big brother watching,” he said.
Mercer said he’d like more legal clarification on whether the City Council would play a role in extending the program in the future. He said though he’s in full support of policing and community policing, he’s “not enthused about taking a step down this path.” He noted that the program is not preemptive in preventing crimes, but investigatory after the fact, and there would be a certain cost of freedom in its continuing.
Goncalves, in a Dec. 27 response letter to the council, clarified that statistics she’d shared earlier were specific to Pawtucket. During a trial program ending Nov. 15, Pawtucket’s patrol division recovered eight stolen vehicles, resulting in seven arrests of perpetrators, she said. Additionally, the Flock Safety cameras helped in identifying vehicles related to their owners breaking and entering, a drive-by shooting, a road rage incident involving pepper spray, a felony assault case, and a stolen vehicle with animals inside.
A contract with Flock Safety could be an administrative prerogative and ultimately an administrative decision, said Goncalves, but after discussing with the administration, if the council would wish to do so, they can refer the information on the automatic license plate recognition cameras, and the decision on whether to recommend them, to the council’s public safety committee to gather public input.
Mercer, at the Dec. 22 meeting, said he understands that Wildenhain as finance chairman would be fine with the program related to how much it costs, but there’s more to consider here. He said that if it does come to funding, does a request for proposals need to be sent out? Maybe Flock is the only company that can offer such a program, and maybe not, he said.
Councilor Clovis Gregor said he was in full agreement with Mercer on questions related to privacy and constitutionality. Councilor Mike Araujo also agreed, saying he’s all for trying to catch perpetrators, he’d be leery about another 60 days of the program.
The council ended up voting 6-3 to reject Wildenhain’s motion for a request to Goncalves seeking a free extension, with Araujo, Mercer, Gregor, Alexis Schuette, Elena Vasquez and Marlena Martins Stachowiak all voting no.