March 15, 2008

Helding asks Council consideration of video surveillance

There may be some pushback against the plan to install multiple surveillance video cameras around the city. (More HERE.)

At least one member of Racine's City Council, Alderman Gregory Helding, 11th District, admits to having concerns about the question for more than a year -- ever since a similar, but smaller, program to monitor alleys was discussed.

After hearing Mayor Gary Becker and Police Chief Kurt Wahlen suggest a more extensive program this week, Helding is now asking for full City Council consideration of the matter, an in-depth discussion, in hopes that "we can come up with a common sense policy that balances civil liberty concerns and the need of the community to rid itself of crime."

Helding sent a letter today to the Mayor, asking that the question be referred to the council as a committee of the whole. His letter is as follows:
Dear Mayor Becker and Members of the Common Council:

Last year, we discussed a citizen request for cameras to monitor an alley. As part of that discussion, members of the Police Department informed us they were working on a system to provide security or surveillance cameras to parts of the city. At the time, I expressed some reservations about this and requested that the Common Council discuss this matter and work out a policy before we begin this type of program.

The city has been using cameras to secure its property for some time. However, we recently approved the use of cameras at some community policing locations that would also allow for surveillance of adjacent areas. There is a significant difference between securing property and the government surveillance of public places.

The Mayor and Police Chief recently announced plans to have dozens of cameras monitoring other parts of the city as well. This may be commonplace in other cities, but it is new territory for Racine. While I am not necessarily against this, I do feel we should not take this step without talking about it and making an informed decision. Something of this gravity requires more than the implicit assent found in approving the purchase of the equipment. I believe it requires thoughtful deliberation and the explicit consent of the Common Council via a resolution.

Please refer to this important matter to the Committee of the Whole.


  1. Have Helding look up the Supreme Court decisions on "expectation of privacy in a public place"! There isn't any!!!!

  2. Prio-

    Which decisions are you referring to? I have reviewed some, including:
    Delaware v. Prouse - “People are not shorn of all Fourth Amendment protection when they step from their homes onto the public sidewalks.”


    Katz v. US - “What a person seeks to be private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected. ”

    Even if we accept that one cannot reasonably expect privacy in a public place, does that mean the government should digitally record what happens in that public place?

  3. I've been considering installing my own camera on our garage in our alley. During the summer months, we keep getting tagged, along with broken booze bottles, empty baggies from drug dealing, etc. I'll take a camera if it will stop crime happening in my ally.

  4. Hey Helding, I hear a fellow alderman's wife (teacher) was suspended from Starbuck School, any input to this?

  5. Come to West 6th st see the drug dealing (Q.A. has been a huge help but he is only one man) the video who help the police know what is going on in high crime areas. They would also let officers know what they are driving into.
    I know we have Grant Writer and even Uptown Art Project to help fight crime rather then Pesky Policemen
    but please let RPD get the tools they need to do the job. Before my neighbors believe that only by taking the law in their own hands they can fight back.

  6. Anon 7:28-

    You raise two good points with regard to cameras. It is points like this I want the council to consider as we discuss this. A counter point could be that cameras would just drive the criminal behavior into non-monitored areas.

    As for you other points, I can assure you that the vast majority (I cant speak for everyone) of the Common Council do NOT view police as "Pesky". I will tell you that the Grant Writer is a re-working of an existing position, so there is no money there that could be spent on Police. Additionally, the money being spent on Uptown is not available to spend on Police.

    Essentially, you are lying by telling people that the Common Council chose to do these things rather than fund "Pesky" Police. The Police Chief came to our budget meetings, asked for what he wanted, and got it.

    He also recently asked for this camera system and got approval for the beginning stages of it. My concern here is that this is a major policy decision on the part of the city and we should actually discuss it and make an explicit decision to allow surveillance cameras to go up.

    We spend weeks talking about the budget every year. We spent 45 minutes talking about baseball fees for one group. We spent a lot of time talking about whether to buy metal detectors for city hall because someday the state might allow concealed carry (NOT my idea, by the way). We even debated whether to allow the police to use FREE comic books featuring a cartoon bird to teach gun safety to kids. My argument is that we can spend some time discussing a policy of this magnitude and make a conscious decision to adopt it, rather than adopt it by default through the purchase of some cameras.

  7. Greg Helding:

    Don't forget that YOU spent way too much time talking about that stupid keg registration YOU initiated.

  8. You are certainly entitled to your opinion on the Keg Registration. I was not alleging that time was wasted on that or any other subject I mentioned. I am saying we are a deliberative body and something this serious certainly deserves some deliberation and debate.

    Do you a constructive comment to offer on the plan to install surveillance cameras in the city?

  9. Mr. Helding

    As much as I have great respect for you in the job you have done so far, please I can not belive that if we got rid of Super Grant Writer we could not have used that money for more Police/Firemen.
    Are you also saying that not $1 is being spent on the Uptown project that could not have been used to maintain the 200 police officers that Mayor Becker said he would have?

  10. Uh Oh, Must be true about the Alderman's wife. Helding didn't address it at all....Aldermen covering up for Aldermen...WOW

  11. Let me get this straight.

    1) An anonymous accusation is made.

    2) Helding is not so stupid as to comment publicly on the gossip


    it must be true and a coverup? Don't look now, but I think I see a black helicopter hovering over your house...

  12. "A counter point could be that cameras would just drive the criminal behavior into non-monitored areas."

    So if we monitor the high (black) areas we will push the crime into the
    non-monitored (white) areas?
    Should not the goal of this program is to arrest and jail the thugs or might we be more interested in keeping crime from the white areas of town?

  13. Sorry, everybody about the comments on the teacher. It's the nature of anonymous comments. If the commenter is reading this, we're looking into your claims. There is nothing to report right now. Please, enough with the comments.

  14. I love that Helding includes his picture with his comments! Very nice, alderman!

  15. "So if we monitor the high (black) areas we will push the crime into the non-monitored (white) areas? Should not the goal of this program is to arrest and jail the thugs or might we be more interested in keeping crime from the white areas of town?"

    I'm afraid you missed my point. I am not talking about "areas of town" on a macro level. I was thinking more micro. For example, if there is a camera at 21st and Lathrop, why not just go around the corner to the 2100 block of Monroe?

  16. Dustin -

    Thank you. I wish more people on here would identify themselves. I think it leads to more civil and productive discourse.

  17. And less debate about topics.

    Mind you mean attacks should not be put up with.

  18. If the funding for this is indeed from Weed and Seed money, don't the cameras have to be in certain areas of town?

  19. wasn't it Greg Helding that was pushing for all class b establishments to have cameras inside AND outside of every place in town?