Starkville has installed security cameras around the city, such as this one at the intersection of Highway 12 and Montgomery Street. The city has fielded complaints about the cameras' flashing lights and concerns about privacy. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
June 10, 2019 9:59:45 AM
Social media pushback has prompted city leaders to respond to concerns about the rollout of a new phase of cameras in Starkville.
The cameras, which have been in place for a few weeks, are in grey enclosures with the Starkville Police Department logo and flashing red and blue lights on the sides.
Since the cameras' installation in May, residents have expressed various concerns about them online, from distracting lights to worries about the city using facial-recognition software.
City Technology Director Joel Clements said the cameras aren't actively monitored -- the city lacks the manpower for such use -- and are activated by motion. He said they're used to review footage in the event of an incident if officials know the general time frame, and don't use any sort of facial-recognition software.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, who responded to complaints about the cameras when she spoke at the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday and at Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting, also said they are primarily used for post-incident analysis. However, she added that they could be used more actively during major events.
"During an event, it is a little bit different because you have an opportunity to see where hot spots may be happening," she said. "You may have more active monitoring during something like Bulldog Bash or the Cotton District Arts Festival."
While residents have expressed concerns about the cameras being used for ticketing, Spruill said the state doesn't allow such uses. She said the Legislature considered it some years ago, as the use was gaining popularity in other states, but opted against it.
The city has installed 10 camera enclosures as part of the first phase of the new camera system rollout. Each enclosure includes four cameras that can be pointed in different directions. The city has put the cameras at Highway 389 and Garrard Road; Long Street and Westside Drive; Highway 182 and Stark Road; Lampkin Street and Russell Street; Lummus Drive and Jarnigan Street; Lummus Drive and Colonel Muldrow Avenue; Russell Street and Mill Street; Highway 12 and South Montgomery Street; South Montgomery Street and Lynn Lane; Louisville Street and Academy Road; and Industrial Park Road and Lynn Lane.
Since the cameras' installation, complaints on social media have shifted. Though worries about things such as facial recognition have faded, complaints about the lights, which several residents have called distracting, have remained.
One Facebook user, Andy Fultz, commented on a Starkville Police Department press release that garnered dozens of responses, "I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks these flashing lights are very distracting and very likely to cause problems. The flashing lights are a little much."
Another user with the username "Amylyn Sugar Sweets" said she's fine with the cameras themselves but found the lights -- their flashing in particular -- distracting.
"Maybe just a strong blue light," she said. "Like the emergency areas on campus. That's just my opinion as a five year resident of Starkville."
Clements said the lights can be dimmed. However, he said the city is still taking feedback to determine which locations might have their lights dimmed.
"We can dim them," Clements said. "It's not as easy as flipping a switch, though I wish it were. They've only been up for a couple of weeks so we're gathering comments and info. We're going to be looking at dimming some of those in certain locations.
"It requires getting a bucket truck up there and doing a little rewiring," he added. "So if wonder why we don't just hop up there and do it or do it remotely, it's a little more involved than that. We didn't want to be hasty in our decision."
Clements added that the lights, in making the cameras visible, are intended to act as a deterrent.
Spruill said she thinks people will adjust to the flashing lights but said the city will look at some locations -- especially any that may be close to a residence.
She added that the flashing lights make the cameras much easier to see, compared to the cameras Starkville has previously used.
"We've had cameras downtown that have been there for years," Spruill said. "These are better in the sense that you know where they are -- as opposed to something that's hidden away and you don't know where it is and it's kind of like 'gotcha!'"
Starkville Police Department Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said the department would decline to comment, referring questions instead to Clements.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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