New surveillance cameras proposed in downtown Northampton cause unease
Cassie Follman ‘20
A proposal from the Northampton Police Department for new cameras downtown created a stir amongst Northampton residents, as well as Smith students, earlier this month. Despite opposition from the community and questioning of the motives for such a proposal, Police Chief Jody Kasper of Northampton Police Department has defended the new surveillance.
The more-advanced cameras would be installed on Main Street. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, another similar proposal had been issued in the past but was rejected due to the number of cameras already installed from both the city and local businesses.
Earlier this month, Kasper held a meeting for community members to ask questions and air their thoughts concerning the project.
“We brought this concept to a community discussion because we truly wanted to hear people’s thoughts and concerns about the use of cameras,” Kasper told The Sophian. “The major concerns about the addition of cameras downtown revolve around privacy, federal access to recordings, the possibility that cameras could negatively and disproportionally effect marginalized members of our community and the cost.”
Chief Kasper tried to ease the concerns of citizens while defending the project as a necessary addition to Northampton security.
In response to one question, Kasper said, “I believe that the added surveillance cameras in downtown would help our police department to more efficiently and effectively solve crimes. Often, when we solve a crime and charge or arrest a subject, we prevent future crimes from occurring. Preventing crimes reduces the number of people who experience victimization. Also, when we solve a case and are able to identify an offender, it often provides a sense of closure for a victim.”
To reassure Northampton residents and Smith students who disagree, Chief Kasper said, “Essentially, using cameras that monitor sidewalks could have a positive effect, but we need to determine if that positive effect is worth the ‘chilling effect,’ which is a concern that some people have raised.”
Kasper also explained that different plans are being considered to best serve the interests of the citizens. She told The Sophian, “One option is to avoid sidewalk cameras and to instead focus on traffic at intersections.”
While the proposed cameras would be installed in downtown Northampton, away from Smith’s campus, the concern of the new surveillance is a concern for some Smith students.
Franchesca Thepenier ’19, a Smith student who works downtown, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “I think the police in Northampton do great,” but she was concerned the cameras would be used to target marginalized groups in town.
“I don’t believe the proposal to add more surveillance cameras to downtown Northampton will be beneficial to the overall safety of the town and the people,” Maija Brennen ’20 said to The Sophian. “I don’t agree with it, and while I do not think they will affect my own life as a Smith student, I see them targeting many marginalized citizens of the community. Added surveillance would be detrimental to them, and I see the cameras only complicating and harming their lives further.”
Although general consensus of both Smith students and Northampton residents has been negative, some citizens believe that added surveillance in Northampton could benefit the community and its people. Henry Heaphy told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “I grew up in Northampton. I’ve seen it change,” in defense of the Police Department’s proposal.
The new cameras would bring changes to downtown Northampton, and could have potentially both positive and negative effects on the community. These effects will only come to fruition if the proposal is made into a public request, which is at the discretion of the Northampton Police Department. Whether the residents’ concerns will be satisfied by the Police Department is also yet to be seen.
Despite the complications of the project, Kasper believes that a satisfying solution can be met. “I remain optimistic that, if we keep the dialogue going and assign this project to a smaller committee, we could thoughtfully discuss this proposed project to see what would work best for our city.”