Milford’s secret surveillance

Cameras in the parks

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MILFORD, PA — With a vandalized spring-rider shaped like a purple dinosaur, and several "tipped-over Port-A-Johns” as evidence of the need for heightened security, the Milford Borough Council unanimously approved a nearly $10,000 expenditure to install four cameras in two borough parks frequented by children and area youths. The borough mayor also supported the surveillance.

“Whatever concerns folks might have about surveillance in public space,” mayor Sean Strub wrote in an email, “concerns I share, that is a train that long ago left the station.”

Councilwoman Maria Farrell, chair of the Milford Borough parks and recreation committee, cited “ongoing issues” at the parks and described the attack on the dinosaur as “happening in the middle of the night.” The dinosaur was the victim of a “blunt instrument” that caused extensive damage to its hardened plastic body, with the most extensive injury to the cranial region. The damage done to the dinosaur required a complete replacement to the much-used and beloved reptile.

The two cameras at the Ann Street Memorial Park will cover the basketball courts and playground. The two cameras at the Catharine Street Memorial Park will cover the skate park and the concessions stand. The high-powered cameras have the ability to “see” 240 feet in the dark, and have 30x zoom capability.

Milford currently spends $361,000—nearly 40 percent of the borough’s $930,000 budget—for the police department and related security items. In 2021, the Milford police made 24 arrests, or one every 365 hours of policing, the majority for minor crimes including motor vehicle violations.

Citing ongoing budget woes, in 2021 the council passed an earned income tax (EIT) to generate additional tax revenue and stabilize the borough finances. The EIT levies a one-percent tax on everyone who lives and works in the borough, unless that person is exempted due to age or other disqualifying factors. Since the passage of the tax levy, with that revenue and the income earned from increased real estate-related taxes, the borough council has twice used this new revenue to spend more on policing and security while reporting no new spending in other budget areas.

Strub said “that no earned income tax” was used to pay for cameras, but an analysis of the 2021 borough budget shows an inter-fund operating transfer from the general fund to the parks and recreation committee. The committee has no stand-alone budget.

According to borough council president Joe Dooley and Farrell, as well as Strub, the cameras’ location will not be publicized, and there will be no signage alerting park users of the surveillance. The park is primarily used by children and young adults.

“No one has an expectation of or a right to privacy when they are outdoors,” Dooley—a retired law enforcement officer as well as council president—wrote in an email. All feeds are live-streamed to monitors at police headquarters and recorded.

 At press time, the borough had not developed any written policies for access to the live feed or collected footage. 

“The police chief wanted them so I figured it was alright,” said councilman Pete Cooney, “but I realize some people feel as though they [the cameras] are an invasion of privacy.”

According to the ACLU, video surveillance can contribute to a “lack of proportion between benefits and risks,” risks that include racial profiling, bad-apple operators, undue attention to women and general ineffectiveness.

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