A network of hundreds of cameras inside and outside Anne Arundel County public buildings in Maryland, unbeknown to the local authorities and county officials, was shut down earlier this week. Now officials are trying to find out more about the extensive operation.
The system of more than 500 cameras, the Baltimore Sun reported, was discovered by County Executive Laura Neuman, who just recently was sworn into the position. The Sun describes the room where the surveillance operation was conducted as small, unmarked and unknown to many until now.
Neuman launched an investigation into the system, but the Sun reports that the former county executive John Leopold, who resigned when found guilty of misconduct, was a point person for the camera system.
Just how Neuman was alerted to the cameras is intersting in and of itself. Here's what happened according to the Sun:
Neuman was alerted to the cameras when the contractor monitoring them greeted her in the parking lot on her first day. She wondered how he knew she had arrived. She asked him about his job, and he showed her the surveillance room.
"I thought it was unusual," Neuman said. "I saw cameras monitoring activity all over the county. I would think something like that would be handled through the police department rather than an unmarked office on the first floor of the Arundel Center."
Neuman declined to identify the contractor. William Hyers, who said he was fired that day, told The Sun on Monday that he was the person monitoring the cameras. A county spokesman confirmed Hyers was let go but would not discuss why, citing personnel issues.
WJZ reported Neuman saying the contractor (Hyers) was reporting to the former county executive directly, not the police.
"To say it’s unconventional is an understatement," Neuman told WJZ.
Watch WJZ's report:
Hyers, speaking with the Sun, said if the police had asked about the system, he would have shown them everything.
Although WJZ reported that police didn't know about the system, the Sun reported county police spokesman Justin Mulcahy saying they had a log of maintenance requests but never saw footage from the cameras. Mulcahy also noted to the Sun that the department could have requested footage if they needed to. WBAL TV also reported the county police saying they had a log for camera maintenance.
Of the cameras that have been found, none were in improper places, the Sun reported. The cameras themselves are still running, but system to monitor the feed was shut down. The investigation is evaluating recorded footage and is trying to determine how long the cameras have been in place and if any county money was used to purchase them in addition to the Department of Homeland Security grant, which Neuman told the Sun had funded them.
The Sun reported the county police chief who served from 1998 to 2006, P. Thomas Shanahan, saying he remembers when some cameras were installed, citing protection of people and property as their purpose. The Citizen Gazette reported Hyers elaborating further, saying they were installed in 2003 or 2004 in response to thefts of property and that his monitoring was conducted as part of the police department's intelligence unit. But the Gazette reported Neuman being told by Police Chief Larry Tolliver that the system was not operated by the department.
Here are the thoughts of local councilmen regarding the cameras, according to the Sun:
Several County Council members said they weren't aware of the surveillance room until asked about it by Neuman. Councilman David Fink, a Pasadena Republican, said the issue should continue to be investigated.
"I just wonder why this thing is in the Arundel Center," Fink said. "I just think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered."
Councilman Dick Ladd, a Severna Park Republican, also said it is important to make sure the cameras are used appropriately.
"I think that surveillance cameras, when done appropriately, are OK," he said. "There are lines that we can go over. I don't know if we crossed those lines."
Council Vice Chairman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, said he didn't learn about the cameras until last week but he said he doesn't have a problem with their placement in county facilities. Grasso said that in his two years on the council, he didn't recall voting on any actions related to the security cameras.
"To me, I think it's a good thing," Grasso said. "They should be out there. As long as people aren't doing anything wrong, there's nothing to be afraid of. There should be cameras wherever they need to be and sound wherever there needs to be sounds. … This is a government facility. This isn't someone's house. To me, I think cameras are free game anywhere in a government facility."
The police department is taking care of the investigation into the camera system.
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