UPDATE, 4:35 p.m.: After a day of outcry, Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery tells the Outpost that the pole will be moved a few feet, to a location behind the Gazebo. It will replace one of the streetlamps close to
Second Street F Street.
Slattery defended the program. He said that the Eureka Police Department is currently down 10 sworn officers, and that surveillance technology has done a lot in recent months to fill in the gaps — not only through the Lot Cop test program, but through private business’ videocams.
A tall pole was erected at the Gazebo yesterday afternoon – a pole taller than the Gazebo itself – and city government will soon be festooning it with a selection of surveillance equipment provided by a Utah-based company called LiveView Technologies, all in an effort to combat crime and other undesirable behavior in and around Old Town.
The device, popularly known as a “Lot Cop,” will be one of five surveillance towers to be installed around Eureka, after city staff completed a six-month trial period with a mobile version of the Cop that was parked in various locations around town.
The program was undertaken at the staff level, and was never discussed at the Eureka City Council, the city’s Design Review Committee or any other public forum.
Eureka Public Works Director Brian Gerving told the Outpost this morning that the Lot Cop program was undertaken by his department, the Community Services department, the city manager’s office and the Eureka Police Department. It began last year, according to Gerving, when the company approached Eureka police with the opportunity to get the wheeled version of the device for a test run.
During that time, Gerving said, they parked Lot Cop at various problem locations around town – near the Wharfinger Building and the Carter House, on Fifth Street downtown, along the Hikshari Trail corridor and elsewhere, and it proved successful.
“In those locations there had been a lot of problems with theft from vehicles, some drug dealing activity — basically, the trailer had cut those activities off,” Gerving said.
After that, city staff made the decision to go ahead with a permanent lease of the mobile trailer and five fixed locations around town. In addition to the Gazebo, Lot Cops will be installed next to the Wharfinger, at the Eureka water tower on Harris and at the foot of Hilfiker and Truesdale streets.
Members of the Eureka City Council that the Outpost contacted today had no idea that the city had erected the Lot Cop pole at the Gazebo yesterday afternoon, nor any knowledge of the Lot Cop lease that the city had entered into. Their reactions were somewhat mixed.
“At the very least this should have come before council so that there could be opportunity for the public to weigh in,” said Councilmember Leslie Castellano, who represents the Old Town area. “We live in an increasingly surveilled society, and I think it is important to discuss what this means for citizens. It is a significant presence in our public spaces, both visually and ideologically. Right now, we have no idea about when and how it is being used.”
Councilmember Natalie Arroyo, who is currently running to represent Eureka on the Board of Supervisors, focused on the upside.
“Residents and businesses around the Gazebo area and in the Old Town community have continuously reported safety concerns, theft and security needs,” she said. “This could provide some useful information for law enforcement. It’s a moveable device, so can be used elsewhere if our City of Eureka leadership and partners determine that another location would be more ideal.”
When asked, Gerving said that he didn’t believe that the Gazebo tower required any sort of design review process before installation. He said, too, that staff would be happy to keep the council informed about the program if the council requests it.
“If they ask for a report after we’ve had the cameras in place for a period of time, we’ll certainly provide it,” Gerving said. “If our current experience holds, our recommendation will be to keep them in place.”
The Lot Cops have various capabilities that go above and beyond mere surveillance cameras. They can also collect audio, and can be equipped with loudspeakers to warn ill-doers to cease their bad behavior. Gerving said that the Gazebo device, at least, won’t have the loudspeakers.
Though he allowed that the appearance of the devices around town – especially on the giant Gazebo pole – might be a bit jarring, Gerving hoped that the public would recognize the benefits provided by them.
“We hope that people recognize the positive aspects of it, and in order to get those impacts you have to compromise on certain things,” he said.