HOLYOKE, Mass. (AP) - Holyoke plans to install five surveillance cameras at high-crime areas in the downtown area within the next few weeks, Police Chief Anthony R. Scott says, a crime-fighting tactic that is becoming increasingly common in urban areas, but which civil libertarians say is an invasion of privacy.
Holyoke will be the first city in the state other than Boston to install such cameras, Scott said. Boston installed many of the cameras this summer in response to potential terrorist threats during the Democratic National Convention, but they remain operable.
The high-resolution cameras are gunshot-proof and multidirectional, allowing police to zoom in and focus on suspects and vehicle license plates.
The Holyoke program is modeled on similar programs in Tacoma, Wash. and Chicago, where authorities experienced sharp drops in drug activity and prostitution in areas where the cameras were installed.
As gang members, prostitutes and drug dealers move away from surveilled areas, new cameras will likely be installed, said Olde Holyoke Development Corp. President Richard P. Courchesne, who pushed for use of the cameras.
The cameras are needed for the protection of law-abiding citizens, Courchesne said.
Mayor Michael J. Sullivan he wants to expand the program to include a dozen cameras later this year. ``And if everything goes well, we could be at 200 (cameras) in the next 2 1/2 years,'' he said.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer William C. Newman said the cameras erode personal privacy on the streets and is concerned that they will be used to spy on law-abiding citizens.
``Information is power,'' he said. ``And this gives an enormous amount of power to law enforcement.''
Newman said there needs to be firm policies on how long police will keep images, who will have access to them and how they will be used.
Scott said he is willing to try ``anything that makes the streets safer that is legal,'' and the cameras will only be deployed on public streets or on private property at the owner's request.
``Nobody's going to be prying into bedrooms,'' he said.
The $2,500 cameras, a computer server and the required software are on order, but have not yet been delivered, Scott said. Fiber-optic cables have also been strung from the undisclosed camera locations into the basement switching room at police headquarters.
When all the components are hooked up, monitors will be installed in various places in police headquarters.