OPINION: Smile, you may be on CCTV

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Is Big Brother watching you?

Could there be surveillance when you’re strolling through the neighborhood?

What about family picnics?

Maybe some security agency has mini-cameras in those hot dog packages.

I’m mentioning all this today — and yeah, kidding a little bit — because I get two or three emails per month asking if the government or “other entities” could be tracking everything we do.

“Why don’t I look into it?” some readers have asked.

So I did.

And here’s the short version ...

If Big Brother is actually at work in Kootenai County, he’s putting in a fairly weak effort.

In fact, our law enforcement agencies have very few CCTVs (closed-circuit television cameras) in public areas – and the ones that exist are for very obvious reasons.

Nobody’s trying to trick you, either.

For instance, the Post Falls PD has cameras in the city’s parks, mostly to discourage graffiti artists and maybe the occasional rowdy behavior.

“But the areas where there are cameras are all lit up,” said John Mittmann, the department’s IT administrator. “I mean, if you know there are cameras and you get caught doing something stupid, shame on you.

“We’re almost advertising that those places are being watched, so really ...”

Mittmann’s right.

The police departments in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene have cameras in obvious spots — like McEuen Park and the adjacent parking structure, and downtown in high-traffic areas.

Generally, there are CCTVs around public buildings, just as you’d expect. So dress nicely and smile if you plan to picket a city council meeting.

Yes, there are a few extra cameras around, too.

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department benefits from some CCTVs on Highway 41 that are administered by Post Falls — but Rathdrum has no cameras at all.

HERE’S THE kicker, though.

None of these cameras are monitored in real time.

“We just don’t have the people or even the equipment to do it,” Mittmann said.

The goal, basically, is to go back and look at images that might have captured a criminal act.

Even then, the law enforcement scanners need to get a bit lucky. Whatever happened needs to be in proper camera range, and in a way that the resolution is actually helpful.

Cameras are probably most useful in spotting the license plates on stolen cars.

But sure, there have been some arrests made by looking at surveillance tapes.

“It’s just one more tool to help us do our jobs,” said Jared Reneau, liaison officer for the Coeur d’Alene PD.

SO THERE is your answer.

Frankly, I’m not even sure why anyone would worry about it.

No one is snooping on private property, and sheesh, if you do something truly idiotic in public, you probably deserve to be seen.

Then face some consequences.

As Mittmann said: “Shame on you!”

I lived for a few years in Great Britain, where residents joke that there are more cameras than people.

Everyone has different opinions about that approach, but I definitely felt safer walking the streets of London at night than I likely would have in any giant American city.

My take on the subject is simple.

The way to quit worrying about surveillance in public spaces is this ...

Don’t break the law.

In case you truly object to a CCTV watching you walk a block on Sherman Avenue, though, feel free to relax.

Anywhere in the county, you’ll probably be out of camera range in another few steps.


You can walk around in a Mickey Mouse mask.

• • •

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.


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