The City Council took no action to follow up on Police Chief Paul Workman’s presentation on the use of security cameras in downtown Laguna or even at the three city limits to film the public "” with a majority concerned about possible erosion of civil liberties.
“Every business downtown can put in a camera," said Councilman Kelly Boyd, owner of the Marine Room Tavern on Ocean Avenue. “I probably will, but I am really concerned about the Big Brother thing. I think it is best to leave it to the private sector."
Workman reviewed video monitoring in public places based on the request of the council and the concerns of the public about an armed robbery of a Forest Avenue jeweler. His research included contacting other communities and an equipment vendor.
“These kinds of cameras have had success," Workman said. “But they are more useful in the investigative phase."
The videotaping is complicated by the quality of the cameras and the process, Workman said. The department looked at the top end of the spectrum to be confident in the product.
Cost is a factor. San Juan Capistrano has three cameras, with notices of their locations posted, at a cost of $90,000. The cameras beam data back to its City Hall for the traffic department.
Dana Point has 39 cameras that cost about one-third the San Juan installation, Workman said. It is more like a shared wireless network.
In November, the city of Tiburon, often cited as a prototype for Laguna, installed the cameras to photograph every license plate on vehicles entering or leaving the city by way of Tiburon Boulevard, which is the only road in or out of the Tiburon Peninsula. The cost was reportedly $200,000.
“I share the Big Brother concern, but even more "” if we are spending a large amount of money, it would be better to put an officer on the street than cameras all over the place," Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said.
David Mitchell, who said his company has deployed installations nationwide, said Laguna’s installation would be cheaper because it already has a wireless system.
“The chief cost would be staff and maintenance," Mitchell said.
Acknowledging the cost, Workman recommended limiting the cameras to locations that gave an elevated view of Main Beach, Broadway and the highway with panning capability to the 400 block of South Coast Highway, which could photograph traffic, gathering places for problem individuals at Forest and the highway and incidents at Main Beach. He estimated the cost for three cameras at $90,000.
“I liked the presentation, but I absolutely oppose it," said Councilwoman Jane Egly, an attorney.
The strongest support for the cameras came from Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman, and Mayor Elizabeth Pearson said cameras at the three exits to the city could be used to identify the guy who hits a kid and runs, but Boyd pointed out that the driver might be a Laguna resident and not leave town.
Besides the cost of equipment and maintenance, the biggest downsides are the city lack of staff to monitor the cameras 24/7 and the perceived impact on civil liberties.
“This is the first step to Russia and Korea," Bruce Hopping said. “Don’t laugh."
Workman said the American Civil Liberties Union finds the cameras a disturbing trend, and some people find it intrusive and probably precedent setting.
“The police have a camera on every other corner, and it’s not long before they want it on every corner," Lynn Stanon said. “Don’t scoff."
However, Stan Leeman said digital cameras are more invasive and do not protect the public’s safety.
With three council members opposed, the staff was not directed to report back on specific options during the budget review process.