Tampa City Council approves $2 million purchase of surveillance cameras for RNC

03/01/12 Seán Kinane
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This morning Tampa City Council approved the purchase of $2 million worth of surveillance cameras and the contract to service them through August’s Republican National Convention. Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says the closed circuit video cameras will help with crowd control.

“Our goal is to have a very safe, secure, enjoyable RNC. Our focus is obviously on the safety and security of that event. We also have the goal of being good stewards of the grant or federal tax dollar.”

The grant is $50 million of federal funds Tampa received for RNC security. Castor said originally Tampa Police wanted bids to purchase or lease camera systems from private companies, but there were no responses to lease camera, only to buy them and pay for a service contract through the Republican National Convention. But the question of what happens to the cameras after the convention concerned City Council member Mary Mulhern, the only one to vote against them.

“I don’t want, and I think there are going to be a lot of people in this city who do not want, permanent cameras installed all over downtown and wherever else. We’re also going to have the opportunity to move these cameras wherever we want. We don’t want permanent surveillance. This is the kind of thing that is happening because of the march of technology and the lack of information prior to this kind of installation. The fear has been engendered that we need to have this for our protection. These things get put in place and then we’re stuck with them and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Civil liberties advocates are concerned that the cameras could create a permanent surveillance society in Tampa. But that’s not what the American Civil Liberties Union brought up in today’s meeting. They’re upset that the camera purchase item was added to the agenda yesterday. Former Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder is now with the ACLU of Florida.

“Specifically we’re not here today to oppose the purchase of those cameras. I want to make that abundantly clear. What we’re asking you today is to abide by your own rules. Rule seven which says items that staff wants to bring to you must be brought to the clerk’s office last Thursday by 2 p.m. We all know that that’s an important rule to Council to ensure that not only do you have opportunity to do your homework and ask all the questions that need to be asked. But to also ensure, that the public has had plenty of opportunity to get involved in the process.”

Council member Mary Mulhern asked Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor why Council should consider the purchase because there wasn’t enough time to review the contract.

“I’m not clear on how this is so urgent that since you have been talking about it and working on it for a year, why you couldn’t have given us 2 weeks notice and put it on the agenda so that the public would have known about the cameras. No one knew that the cameras were coming up. I know you stopped by my office a couple days ago so I didn’t have time to do the kind of research that I would like to have done before being asked to vote on it today.”

But Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor insisted there was no time for a two week delay to get the contract approved and the cameras installed. Council voted 5-1 to allow the item on today’s agenda, and later approved the purchase on the same vote.

On September 20 Tampa City Council will hold a workshop to determine what to do with the cameras after the RNC has left town.

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