People in Eudora, Arkansas are angry over recent installment of police surveillance cameras throughout the city that monitor everyone’s activity on the north end…24-7.
Spy cameras in Eudora ignited a firestorm of protest as citizens claim their homes and businesses are under constant watch. They say they feel their privacy rights have been violated under state and federal law.
Despite their growing pains over privacy rights, disturbing questions linger over whether cameras are strategically placed directly in front of black-owned businesses in a scheme by Eudora police department to profile certain people who do business at clubs and with food vendors.
Police Chief William El-Amin denies the allegations. He said the cameras were not installed to violate people’s privacy or profile people.
“It is against the law to violate people’s privacy,” El-Amin said. “Surveillance cameras are used for crime deterrence,” the chief said.
“Cameras are where they are to help police do their jobs,” said Mayoral candidate Jonathan Patrick. Patrick said the camera on Arch street is near his property, adding, “People should have a comfort level of security when cameras are around, and people shouldn’t have anything to worry about if they’re not doing wrong.”
Apparently some citizens feared repercussions if they spoke in favor of the cameras catching criminals in action. Either they refused comment or if citizens made a comment they refused to have their names used for this story.
Arkansas state law on privacy rights forbids police to use a camera or electronic equipment to knowingly record a person who has reasonable expectation of privacy, in a residence, business, school or dwelling structure. And to maintain privacy within a structured dwelling the person must be in a private area, out of public view, and not consent to video monitoring nor be recorded.
“None of the city’s cameras are directly pointed at someone’s property,” El-Amin added.
Earlier this year the city council approved the chief’s proposal to install the cameras that were purchased from a Memphis-based tech company.
Police can legally use surveillance technology to video people’s activities with a court order or warrant during criminal investigations.
The Fourth Amendment law under federal statute also provides privacy protection to American citizens but with exceptions.
Little Rock ACLU legal director and privacy specialist Holly Dickson said, “Nobody wants police cameras pointed at their homes or businesses.”
Dickson said the police have not committed a crime or are liable under a civil lawsuit as long as the police are not using cameras to violate people’s right to privacy. She also said that police can use cameras for typical surveillance of the city and to record potential crime activity in public.
Federal and state court decisions have upheld police right to use surveillance cameras. For example, according to legal experts：If dope dealers regularly sell drugs on a particular street the Fourth Amendment does not forbid police placing cameras on a light pole to record the crimes in action, and, thus, when a person commits crime in public, whether it is an act of violence or dealing drugs, they are not entitled to an expectation of privacy.
Nor is it illegal for police to use surveillance cameras to video in open public which is similar to how everyday civilians use cellphones to record and snap pictures of people in public, not to mention how many public pictures end up on social media.
El-Amin said the cameras benefit in other ways.
“The cameras are a powerful tool to compensate for lack of evidence and lack of witnesses when a shooting or particular crime happens.”
Too many times, the chief insisted, “guilty people went free because I was unable to make an arrest due to a witness refusal to cooperate and tell me what happened so I could file charges.” El-Amin further explained how “the police need evidence to make an arrest.”
“The cameras are also in response to citizens’ complaints about what police are doing about the shootings, burglaries and overall crime problems in Eudora.”
“It appear the cameras are right in front of black-owned businesses including mine,” said Ricky Patrick, local club owner. Cameras should be placed where serious property crimes take place the business owner added.
“Why don’t police place cameras in front of businesses located downtown and on highway 65?” the man asked, recalling how these businesses have been robbed and burglarized on many occasions.
“Seems like they need cameras more than anybody.”
In response, El-Amin stated,
“Police departments don’t provide cameras for private businesses; they have to buy their own.”
For and Against
E.W. (Eric) West, a prominent hair barber in Eudora for 51 long years favors police cameras to benefit the community. “People shouldn’t have a problem with the cameras if they care about the community,” West said, further explaining the cameras were purchased with grant money and didn’t come out of the city’s budget.
“An ounce of prevention better than a pound of cure,” West said. “We talk about what police are doing about crime. Well the cameras are a tool to help police fight crime.”
Cassandra King AKA “BIM” is a single working parent who lives at the corner of Front & Arch, two adjacent streets, where a police camera is posted. She is very unhappy.
King angrily complained about, “the flashing of the camera’s blue light upon my house and backyard property. It is causing hardship upon my daily work performance, my sleep at night, and my everyday livelihood,” King said during interview.
King inferred not all people in Eudora were criminals. “My neighborhood is all black and we are being watched as if we have committed crimes.”
Complaints about another camera located off Front street conjured up a previous violent crime. El-Amin said it is possible the accused killer of a young man in 2015 – wouldn’t have got off the hook for murder if a camera had been located on Church street where a camera is now posted at the corner where the young man lost his life.
Mayoral candidate Kayla Pitts commend the police department for trying to deter crimes with cameras. Yet even law-abiding citizens complained to her about the cameras flashing blue light on Armstrong street that lead drivers into Eudora’s downtown district.
“People have said at night the blue flashing light on the camera located near town on Armstrong street distracts them,” Pitts said, concern someone could hit another car.
“Drivers shouldn’t be distracted,” Pitts added.
Pitts spoke about the economy and job opportunities in the city. “Another important question is why so many young people in Eudora turn to crime. As more than one citizen has said there are no jobs here. I will not say that is not the case and doesn’t play a part in it but we all make decisions and accountability for our actions is important,” Pitts explained.
“We need more programs for our youth. We, as in our city, need to make sure when Eudora is being looked at by potential industries for jobs, that our city is cleaned up and presented each time we present our city to potential interests.”
Pitts went on to say, “Eudora is an impoverished city and if anyone knows the definition of impoverished it is something caused by poor leadership; I am not referring to any one person,” Pitts added. “I am speaking historically; this did not happen overnight.”
Chief Understands Concerns
El-Amin admitted he understood the concerns of citizens about police cameras and whether the cameras are used to invade people’s privacy. He said if citizens have complaints about the cameras or their flashing light, to contact him.
To eliminate confusion over the legality of the cameras, ACLU’s Dickson said “the police need to pass a policy guideline to explain to Eudora citizens how the cameras work and that any collection of data and video images of people in public will not be used for any illegal purposes.”
Dickson further stated the flashing of the blue light from the camera into people’s property is more of a nuisance than a legal claim and that the issue should be taken up with the chief or city council.
“When people come to Eudora including people who already live here we want to make them feel safe and we want to deter crime as much as possible,” El-Amin concludes.
Newsblaze Reporter Clarence Walker can be reached by email: [email protected]