Boulder police secretly install surveillance cameras on municipal campus between city hall, library

PD: Cameras part of ongoing criminal investigation

BOULDER, Colo. - Some Boulder residents are questioning their police department’s decision to install surveillance cameras in the park area between city hall and the public library, without letting the public know.

The city quietly placed two cameras on the municipal building and one on the library in early January.

When asked about the secrecy, Boulder Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kobel said, "The reason those cameras were installed is because we have an ongoing criminal investigation in the area."

Kobel gave few details about the investigation, but did say police have received numerous complaints about criminal behavior, including assault, threatening behavior, urinating in public and drug dealing.

"In some cases, we have drug dealing to high school students," she said.

The cameras have touched a raw nerve with some residents, especially those who hang out in the public space.

"They're violating our rights and our freedom," said Bailey Flood.

When asked if it would have made a difference if the city had been upfront about the cameras, Flood replied, "No, it's an invasion of privacy."

Not everyone looks at it that way.

"They're fine," said Jeff Swann, who admits that he drinks regularly while sitting on a park bench in front of City Hall. "Cameras are a part of life."
 

Swann says he's observed a lot of criminal behavior in the park.

"There was a big fight here two or three days ago," he said. "It was a real live brawl. It lasted five minutes. Both guys were really tough."

Kobel says police hope the cameras help "modify" some of that behavior.

When asked why police didn't publicize the cameras ahead of time to begin that modification process, Kobel again said that initially the cameras were installed as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. She said once the investigation is complete, police may post signs in the park area to let people know the cameras are there.

She said the cameras aren't hidden, they're in plain view on the roof areas of the municipal building and library.

Kobel also said the video isn't kept on a server. "It's recorded on the camera and kept for a couple of days then re-recorded."

Kobel says the cameras can be moved. She said if police get complaints about criminal behavior in other neighborhoods, the cameras might be moved and used to record that activity.

"We're trying to catch criminals," Kobel said.

Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the Colorado Chapter of the ACLU told 7NEWS, "Video surveillance of public space is controversial. To some degree, there is a trade-off balancing privacy and freedom versus public safety."

Silverstein said municipalities dealing with that issue need to be transparent.

Kobel says Boulder had planned to publicize the video surveillance after the criminal investigation was completed.