Council Questions Video Plan for Buffalo City Hall

Plan for new video surveillance at City Hall creates controversy as opponents ask which town leaders will have access


Sep. 27--There are still more questions than answers regarding a controversial video surveillance plan for Buffalo's City Hall, despite queries from several Common Council members. The Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday peppered Buffalo Police Capt. Mark Makowski with questions about where the cameras will be located, when they would be operated and who would be watching the monitors. But Makowski, who is involved in the security planning, declined to provide details citing the "sensitive nature" of the information.

"I'd rather not talk about this in an open meeting," Makowski told Council President David A. Franczyk, in response to his questions about recently revealed plans to place cameras outside Mayor Byron W. Brown's second-floor office, and later expand the video monitoring to other areas of the public building.

After providing a similar response to other committee members' inquiries about the proposed system, a closed-door session was scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, when details are expected to be shared.

"This isn't an attempt to keep secrets. This discussion needs to take place in an appropriate setting where we can maintain the integrity of the security plan," said Brown administration spokesman Peter Cutler. "Makowski is an expert on this and if he didn't feel comfortable talking about it in a public meeting, we back that position."

A Sept. 23 Buffalo News story revealed preliminary plans for the high-tech security system, which would be paid for through federal Homeland Security Administration funds. The concept of big brother-style surveillance in the public building has raised eyebrows and questions about who will be watching whom.

Much of the concern has centered on whether Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey would have a bird's-eye view via a monitor on his desk. The mayor has downplayed details of how the system would function, focusing instead on the broader effort to maintain security at City Hall.

While Finance Committee members struck out at getting the answers they sought at Tuesday's meeting, they used the opportunity to give their opinions of the camera plan and make suggestions on alternative security methods.

"I firmly believe we should have an overall security plan," said Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis, the committee's chairman, who cited instances in his office where "irate, irrational individuals" have paid unexpected visits.

Davis tossed out a laundry list of alternative deterrents, ranging from a rapid response security team, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Franczyk predicted a building-wide video surveillance network will make "a fortress."

"City Hall is the people's house. We have to strike the right balance between security and intrusion," he said.

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said she recently saw a woman with a large rolling suitcase in a City Hall elevator, which could have contained an assortment of weapons or dangerous materials. Russell suggested using metal detectors or other physical screening equipment at building entrances.

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