We are not opposed to the idea of video cameras capturing 24/7 images of people in public areas, especially those areas that have a reputation for trouble. We are concerned, however, that the Medford Police Department has begun the practice without a public discussion or, apparently, specific direction from elected city leaders.
Medford police are now videotaping two places: Alba Park and near a pedestrian bridge off Ninth Street that leads to the Bear Creek Greenway. Alba Park has become a hangout for homeless and transient people, with all the accompanying issues. The bridge at Ninth Street is used by Rogue Community College students to go to and from a parking lot and there had been several incidents of the students being harassed, again, by homeless or transient people.
Medford police say they are not monitoring people with the cameras but rather using the stored video if complaints or crimes are reported to see whether they can identify the alleged perpetrators. They also say the clearly visible blinking, blue lights of the video cameras serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.
Several people interviewed for the story we published on July 31 said they had no problem with the cameras, as long as they were not being used to target the homeless. Police say that's not the case; the cameras are used to deal with crimes, not homelessness. They also say the cameras already have been a success at curbing problems near the pedestrian bridge.
We agree the cameras' current use is not an overreach. People in a public place, like a park, should have no expectation of privacy. If they are behaving themselves, i.e., not committing a crime, they have nothing to fear from the recordings.
But questions arise:
- Where was the public discussion on this plan? Do the citizens of a community have a right to know they are being videotaped?
- What process did the city go through in determining this would be a reasonable tool to use in crime fighting?
- Where else, if anywhere, do police plan to post video cameras?
- What safeguards are there to ensure the videos are used only for the stated purpose of investigating crimes after they happen?
The "slippery slope" argument is overused by opponents of any number of things. But in this case, there is a long-term slippery slope that is very real. At what point do we wake up and realize that our movements are constantly being recorded, and perhaps by then, observed in real time by authorities?
That slippery slope presents the possibility that authorities would in some distant future use the videos to crack down on political dissent. That happens elsewhere in the world already, where Big Brother is an ever-present part of people's lives.
We are not suggesting the Medford police are doing anything beyond exactly what they say they are. Today is not the issue; tomorrow could be. Different people in charge, different social or political climate, different uses for the video.
It's a topic that at a minimum should be discussed in a public forum. The end result may very well be the same, but it would be with the consent or at least the knowledge of the community.