Parish spends big bucks on controversial technology

Parish spends big bucks on controversial technology

ST. BERNARD PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The St. Bernard Sheriff's office spent $120,000 for six traffic cameras that record the license plates of nearly every single vehicle that drives by after the old system failed investigators.

The high-tech cameras are fixed at every entrance and exit to the parish, and some residents welcome the system.

"They say most of our crime comes from Orleans Parish," St. Bernard resident Rickeia Camel said. "Hopefully, it will make the criminals think twice before they go into St. Bernard Parish."

The new system was put into place after investigators tried to use a camera network previously in place for a murder in Chalmette last October, but the cameras were not operating correctly.

Sheriff James Pohlmann declined an interview with FOX 8 about the new cameras. But a spokesman with his department said the cameras' main purpose is to track stolen vehicles.

The current system immediately notifies the 911 call center of a potential stolen car, and dispatchers send a deputy to the area. It can also assist in murder investigations and Amber Alerts.

While St. Bernard has six license plate reader cameras, there are 140 of the cameras across Jefferson Parish. The sheriff's office also has 12 roaming cameras that officers can place on their cruisers.

"We've solved murders. We've solved armed robberies. We've solved aggravated burglaries with this technology because we put people in places," Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said. "We've also arrested our own deputies in internal investigation that said, 'Oh no, I couldn't have had that altercation with this person because I wasn't there.' Well you were there two minutes before the stop occurred because you were caught on camera."

In Jefferson Parish, neighborhood associations can even buy the cameras to alert deputies of a hit in their area.

While investigators call the system useful, Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman worries the massive collection of data could be abused if it's kept for long periods of time.

"They have to be very careful not to violate the privacy rights of everyone who comes in and out of that parish in an effort to solve crimes," Esman said. "At the very least, I think people should know their money is being spent this way because it may not be the best use of taxpayer money."

Esman also questions the placements of the cameras, especially in St. Bernard Parish.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that this is happening in the parishes that surround Orleans Parish, giving the demographics of Orleans Parish and those surrounding communities," Esman said.

But officials believe the cameras protect citizens by using technology with instant information to solve crimes.

"We're in the public domain," Normand said. "We are not peeking into anybody's houses. We are just recording licenses plates on public streets."

State Police also installed a similar system on the interstate to track potential criminals, and an official with the agency says these cameras are also in St. Tammany Parish.

Normand said he sat down with ACLU officials before installing the cameras and his system keeps data for a minimal amount of time.

State Police officials say troopers keep the information for no more than 30 days.

A St. Bernard spokesman said the department keeps the data until their servers are full.

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