Midwood ready for its close-up • Brooklyn Paper

Midwood ready for its close-up

Ready for your close-up?: Experts say police department security cameras can rotate, tilt, and zoom with such power that they can read license plates from as far as a mile away.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

They’re already saying “Cheese.”

Residents in two Brooklyn neighborhoods are all smiles about the prospect of having hundreds of security cameras watching over their streets.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind has sponsored a $1 million initiative to install 320 security cameras in 80 locations throughout Midwood and Borough Park. Residents were torn over the surveillance scheme when Hikind announced it two years ago — especially amid reports that religious groups would have access to the camera feeds — but public opinion seems to have changed with news that only the police will use the cameras.

“I think it’s great,” said Midwood resident Raul Rodriguez. “I hope they do it all over the place — Brooklyn, Queens, all over the place.”

The cameras will be purchased by a religious group, Agudath Israel of America, which will be reimbursed though a state grant that can only be awarded to private organizations, but once the cameras are installed, Agudath will have nothing to do with the cameras, according to Hikind.

Only the police will get to see footage, according to Hikind, not outside groups.

“Not Dov Hikind, not Agudath Israel, no one but the police can see these cameras,” he said.

Footage is stored on the cameras and is only accessible from Police headquarters in Manhattan, according to Secure Watch 24, which built the camera system. In order to access footage, precincts must request permission from headquarters, and visit 1 Police Plaza to view it.

“The only place the cameras go to is the real-time crime center at 1 Police Plaza,” said Desmond Smyth, president of Secure Watch 24.

In addition, the camera system keeps a log of who accessed a given camera, the time they did so, how long they were connected, and what data they viewed or copied, Smyth said.

The only exception to the police-only access policy is Secure Watch 24’s technicians, who can access the cameras and footage for maintenance purposes, but their actions will also be record in the activity logs, according to Smyth, and the logs will be available to the public.

As of press time, however, police could not confirm that the public can access the logs, or how to obtain them.

Another wrinkle is that, due to the terms of the state grant, Agudath Israel must remain the owners of the cameras for the next three years. At that point, the group would like to transfer ownership to the city, but a spokesperson conceded that the group may may have to retain ownership in order to maintain funding for the project.

Despite apparent neighborhood support, civil rights watchdogs say the proliferation of cameras is cause for concern.

A report from the New York Civil Liberties Union contends that cameras do little to deter crime and much to inhibit civil liberties.

“There is a growing body of evidence that indicates the proliferation of video surveillance technology is undermining fundamental rights of privacy, speech, expression, and association,” the report said.

Cameras on public streets can also sometimes point into homes, robbing residents of privacy, according to the report.

One Midwood merchant said that possibility concerned him, though he generally supported the camera installation.

“They shouldn’t be everywhere, because, in the same token, it’s an invasion of privacy,” said Edgar Garcia, who sells flowers on the corner of Avenue J and E. 12th Street. “Not so much in residential areas.”

Technicians can tweak where the cameras are aimed if one creates a privacy issue, Hikind said.

“Moving the cameras is extremely easy,” he said.

Hikind said he hopes to see all 320 cameras installed by spring.

In the meantime, residents say the prospect of increased security outweighs any potential for abuse.

“Our children are more important,” said Midwood’s Benjamin Langer.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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