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Marion City Council considers surveillance camera proposal

Jonathan Bozeman of Alabama Power’s Public Safety division was in Marion in January to discuss potential surveilance cameras for the City of Marion.

Bozeman said other towns and cities in the area were already running cameras, naming Demopolis, Livingston, Tuscaloosa, Northport, and Coker.

Noting that it might seem strange that an electrical utility was offering this service, Bozeman compared it to the lights Alabama Power offers: “We don’t allow people to put camears on our poles. But what we will do is put up cameras and maintain them just like we do lights. We own the cameras, you own all the data from them. And you don’t have to worry about the cost of maintenance.”

Bozeman said the cameras were tied into a nationwide information database including information like vehicle tag registration.

“These are not speed detection cameras. They are not stoplight cameras. They have no idea how cast these cars are going, they only know that it is moving.” Bozeman said camera systems like the one he proposed would only “look” at public rights-of-way, meaning public streets and roads. “It won’t look at private property,” he said.

The cameras take still amages of vehicles as they pass by, and, using artificial intelligence, looks for identifying information about the vehicle like its color, make and model, and tag number.

“Because this system is queryable, if you know that somebody is in a red pickup truck — you can just go back and do a search over a month-long period for just red pickup trucks and see which ones came through your camera,” Bozeman said.

The system also ties in with the National Criminal Information Computer database, cross referencing information about suspected gang and terrorist organization members, sex offenders, and domestic violence suspects, he said. If the system notices a vehicle that has been flagged, it sends an alert to local law enforcement dispatch personnel. Bozeman said that alert could be an email, text, or phone call.

“Across the state of Alabama we’ve got about 900 of these cameras,” he said.

Bozeman said the cameras would not be able to gather or provide information about individuals.

“It doesn’t even tell you who the car is registered to. The officer will have to look that up,” he said.

What it can tell officers, he said, is how many times the system, across the state, has logged a particular vehicle in the past 30 days.

“It just gives the police some place to start,” he said.

Bozeman said the system could be a boon to the city’s Police Department. The cost per camera, which is billed on a monthly basis, would be about $2700 per year, he said. With his proposed seven cameras, “That’s basically like having seven officers sitting at those locations, watching the traffic constantly.”

The proposal drew few questions from the City Council when it was presented.

“That’s something for us to think about,” said Mayor Dexter Hinton, noting that the city could always decrease the potential costs by cutting down on the number of cameras.