Kings Point's chief of police spoke at Glen Cove's city council meeting Tuesday, telling the council about his department's use of the kind of surveillance cameras that are going up in Glen Cove.
"I'm just here to let my fellow residents know, and you know, that I've seen it in operation for two years," said Jack Miller, chief of Kings Point's police department for the last decade and a Glen Cove resident for 35 years.
"Is it big brother watching ya? Well, yeah, it is recording you. But I gotta tell you, we had a burglary, and [the victim] gave us the timeframe of when the burglary happened, and in our village we don't have a lot of traffic. But in that two-hour period we had 400 license plate hits. So it's either myself or one of my administrators who are the only two who can get into the system and download these 400 plates," he said.
Several residents at the meeting expressed concern about the surveillance system's imposition on residents' privacy and how it would affect the feel of the neighborhood, questioning the city's need for such measures. The potential for abuse was also raised.
The city's attorney, Vincent Taranto, pointed out that the council's job is to serve the overall public good, and that it has determined that the installation of these cameras serves that purpose.
Councilman Anthony Gallo, Jr. addressed the question of invasion of privacy that was raised, saying that legally there is no expectation of privacy in a public space.
Miller said the cameras in Kings Point are being used in an open case of a black van that has approached children outside of their schools. He also noted the example of an armed robbery that took place before cameras were installed. A woman was approached in her garage and told to surrender a ring from her finger at gunpoint. The perpetrator drove off.
"They would have gone by three of our video cameras and our license plate readers" had they been up then, Miller said. "That case is still open."
Miller said the "big brother" issue concerns him as a citizen, but said his experience has not given much cause for that concern.
He made the point that the technology is there but there remains the need for hours of manpower to use that technology.
"If anybody thinks that somebody can just go in and see who's going where and what's going on with that, it's not that simple," said Miller. "You follow the procedures, and when they run it in the placement computer - that's where they run the license plates - that's owned by the New York State Police. I can not go in and run a plate for Mayor Suozzi to find out what car is in front of his house. He has to do it through the Glen Cove Police Department and it has to be for a law enforcement purpose."
He used an example of a Nassau County police officer's sister in Westchester County who asked her brother to run the plate of a suspiscious car parked in front of her home.
"Too bad for him it was an unmarked New York State Police car. State police on the phone - 'What are you looking at our car for?'" Miller said.
He said there are plenty of safeguards put in place to protect against such personal abuses.
Miller described the large screen in department headquarters which displays a live feed from the village's cameras, but said that only two people have access to the recording once the images pass from the screen.
He said the equipment records on a 60-day loop, rewriting over old images once that time has elapsed.
Mayor Ralph Suozzi repeatedly said that the cameras - six license plate readers and 52 to 54 video cameras, most of which will go in the city's two municipal parking garages - were acquired at no cost to the city through a federal Department of Justice grant.
The village of Kings Point is paying $1 million to install its surveillance system, Miller said.
Gallo suggested that Glen Cove's police chief, William Whitton, be present at the council's March 13 meeting to discuss safeguards and policy regarding the cameras and their recordings.