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Jackson narrowly approves surveillance cameras to solve crimes

By Rebecca Huntington
Jackson Hole Daily
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — The Jackson Town Council will spend $184,800 to purchase and install 30 surveillance cameras around town to monitor license plates, despite concerns about how that data might be used.

Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson voted against installing the license plate readers because the data could be subject to public records requests. While the tools could be “a big time-saver” for the Jackson Police Department, the mayor said, when the government collects data it can become public.

“That is different than the cameras that are out there now,” she said, referring to private businesses.

Councilors Jessica Sell Chambers, Jonathan Schechter and Jim Rooks all voted in favor of the contract, which was approved 3-2. Rooks added a condition of approval, requiring the council to annually review the program.

Longtime Jackson resident Earle Lindell asked the council not to purchase the cameras, saying “the slope is too slippery.”

Referring to welcome signs that greet visitors when they enter town, Lindell asked: “Are we going to put in there: You’re being monitored at all times?”

The cameras capture computer-readable images of rear license plates, as well as vehicle color, make and model as cars move through intersections. The system also notes the time, date and direction of travel. Councilors have been debating the public safety benefits versus expectations of privacy.

Jackson Police Chief Michelle Weber said the cameras could help solve high-stakes cases like child abduction.

While voting for the contract, Sell Chambers echoed some of Lindell’s concerns.

“I have traditionally been anti-surveillance, I think it has been a slippery slope,” she said. “But I just think that that ship has sailed. We are so under surveillance, like constantly, everywhere.”

Likewise, Rooks said he is a libertarian by nature but didn’t want Jackson to be targeted for being an “evidence desert.”

“If you’re a criminal, and you’re spinning the globe and trying to decide where to commit crimes, right, you’re not going to pick the spots that have incredible surveillance,” he said. “You’re going to pick what they call evidence deserts.”

Rooks emphasized that victims are impacted when crimes go unsolved.

Councilor Arne Jorgensen objected to the proposal, in part, because there will be a recurring cost.

The two-year contract for $184,800 with Flock Group Inc. includes all hardware and maintenance fees. Starting in fiscal year 2025, the ongoing costs are estimated at $87,500 a year.

“I appreciate the usefulness of these tools,” he said. “It does require recurring revenue.”

Jorgensen also had concerns about how the town handles the data. The town already uses license plate readers for parking enforcement, and he wants to revisit how that data is being handled to address privacy concerns. He also worried about town police having to respond to data requests from other jurisdictions to enforce laws that aren’t a priority for Jackson. For example, sending license plate data to states that are passing laws to ban interstate travel for some health care procedures.

Schechter reluctantly voted for the contract.

“Here’s a quote from William F. Buckley, it says, ‘A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling stop. And that’s the very deep feeling I have,” he said. “I’m screaming stop as I vote yes.”

After the vote, Lindell warned that technology changes fast. Approving license plate readers today could expand into facial recognition cameras in the future and increased risks of misidentifications, he said.

Even though cameras are everywhere on private businesses, he countered: “But does it have to be in government?”

He’d rather see the money spent on hiring officers.


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