Salt Lake City rolls out surveillance for prominent park

Feb. 20, 2009
Pioneer Park to have cameras as police try to crack down on drugs, homelessness

After decades of rushing police to Pioneer Park when a crime is reported, Salt Lake City has decided to keep someone -- or something -- watching the park permanently.

City government is holding a press conference Wednesday to introduce video surveillance in the park. The system will have four cameras producing a live feed 24 hours every day, Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Lara Jones said Tuesday.

Jones said the presentation today will discuss more details of the program and address civil rights concerns.

Karen McCreary, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said her group opposes the cameras. Along with allowing for voyeurism, McCreary said, the cameras could enable police to target people because of their race or political activity.

"The potential threat of personal privacy and individual civil liberties outweigh the benefits," McCreary said.

The cameras are the city's latest attempt to reduce crime in Pioneer Park, which for decades has been a host to the homeless and drug dealing. In recent years, the surrounding neighborhood has undergone renewal but the park still attracts a disproportionately-high rate of illegal activity.

In October 2007, as crowds were leaving a Utah Jazz preseason game a few blocks away, a man across the street from Pioneer Park stabbed and wounded one person, then ran into the park and stabbed and killed Christian Charles Draayer, 31, who lived in one of the upper-class apartments across from the park. A police officer shot and killed the assailant.

A few weeks later, Salt Lake City police conducted the first of several sweeps in which officers make arrests for typically trivial offenses or undercover officers conduct drug stings. The latest sweep was last month. Hundreds have been arrested.

Meanwhile, the city has been added a dog run and jogging track to the park and encouraged more legitimate activity there.

Cameras already record at some traffic lights and public buildings across the Wasatch Front.

McCreary pointed to a University of California study released last year, which found cameras deployed in high-crime areas of San Francisco had no measurable impact on violent crime, drug offenses, prostitution or vandalism there. The study found the cameras deterred property crime.

In announcing the press conference, Salt Lake City police said cameras have been effective in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The Pioneer Park cameras have the support of the neighborhood council. D. Christian Harrison, president and chair of the Downtown Community Council, said the council hopes the cameras deter illegal activity. But Harrison does not want cameras expanded beyond the park.

"The park we have is a unique space and sometimes you need to take unique action," Harrison said.

Harrison is among a group of residents who barbecue and play bocce ball in the park on Sundays in the summer. He acknowledges it's a little creepy that he'll be watched there.

"There's no more observation going on [in Pioneer Park] then at the Gap store," Harrison said. "I'm more ashamed of being in the Gap store than out playing bocce."

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