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No plans to merge county, Schenectady camera networks

No plans to merge county, Schenectady camera networks

No plans to merge county, Schenectady camera networks
Signal Superintendent John Coluccio is one of the architects of Schenectady’s “Smart Cities” initiative.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY — The county District Attorney’s Office has 390 street cameras — and counting.

But that's not the only camera network steadily being deployed across the city.

The city has been installing cameras — or “optical sensors,” to use Mayor Gary McCarthy’s preferred term — as it works with National Grid to replace traditional light bulbs with LED technology as part of its Smart Cities initiative

Schenectady will eventually install 250 sensors in the Smart Cities zone broadly encompassing Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill, said Signal Superintendent John Coluccio. 

And while the city hasn’t zeroed in on an exact number, officials expect to deploy roughly 150 units downtown and the northern swath of city stretching up Erie Boulevard toward Mohawk Harbor and into Goose Hill. 

Despite the emergence of a new camera system, officials have ruled out linking the Smart City network with the pre-existing district attorney’s system.

“There’s not a plan in place,” McCarthy said. 

County District Attorney Robert Carney said his office’s network is designed solely for criminal investigations, and there are few locations where cameras are, or will be, co-located.

“They’re not in the same place,” he said. “Most places where we have cameras, there aren’t Smart City cameras.”

A merger would make sense in that the newly consolidated network would have more cameras, Carney said. 

“But again, it’s built and conceived for different purposes, and it functions differently than our cameras." 

NO FACIAL RECOGNITION

As technology seeps into every facet of daily life, facial recognition is increasingly becoming a hot topic.

While law enforcement touts the technology for its crime-solving abilities, privacy advocates are wary about creating a vast network of surveillance cameras that can be used to observe regular civilians.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has sounded the alarm about the potential usage in public schools, while some cities, including San Francisco, have banned facial recognition technology entirely.

Usage is also coming under increased scrutiny in the private sector, including Facebook, which lost its appeal in federal court on Aug. 7 to kill a federal class action lawsuit contending it illegally harvested biometric data from its users.

McCarthy said the city is not exploring usage of the technology.

“We have not addressed that,” McCarthy said. “It’s not something that we’re looking at implementing or actively pursuing at this point.” 

Carney said his office does not use facial recognition software, but footage may be disseminated to state police or Albany Crime Analysis Center, the state-funded hub which provides support to law enforcement agencies in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Saratoga counties.

“I’m not aware of cases where it has happened, but it is a possibility,” Carney said.

SENSOR USAGE

Despite keeping the systems independent of one another, the city has offered the District Attorney’s Office access to several cameras. If prosecutors wanted to use that information in a criminal case, they would have to formally request the footage. 

“Occasionally we find that something has happened in the vicinity of a Smart City camera and we’ve asked the city to get that footage for us,” said Carney said, citing when a man fled a DWI checkpoint near Rivers Casino in February and injured a state trooper in the process. 

McCarthy said the city eventually plans on mapping out hotspots for criminal activity to aid with “prevention and documentation of events.”

More broadly, the mayor envisions the Smart City optical sensors being used for less-glamorous applications — like capturing still images over the span of several years to monitor street deterioration.

That application will help the city in crafting more efficient pavement management plans, he said, as will the data collected by wireless sensors logging daily traffic counts. 

McCarthy acknowledged public support is key as the city weighs future applications: “How do you draw in that information, and is it something people really want?” he said. 

Councilman Vince Riggi said he continues to be wary of Smart City applications.

Privacy and security to safeguard against the release of the personal information of city residents is important, he said. And these increasingly complex municipal systems may carry unexpected financial burdens.

“Technology changes so fast, what are the upkeep costs?” Riggi said. “The cost of upkeep would be a big concern.”

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