SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (AP) — Two years ago, every kind of trash imaginable was strewn on the road to the proposed Siouxland Freedom Park, a $4.2 million project on the banks of the Missouri River honoring military heroes.
Today, visitors come to look at the replica Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and American flag towering over South Sioux City.
Litter is long gone.
The dramatic cleanup is being attributed to a network of surveillance cameras installed to combat quality-of-life problems and crime in South Sioux City.
It’s a small piece of a much bigger camera system in place in the city. All told, about 90 cameras are posted in the 6-square-mile community - or one for every 149 residents. Most are on municipal buildings, but some - like those near the waterfront - are free-standing.
While numerous communities have camera systems, Amy Miller, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, said the proliferation and use of the devices in South Sioux City is concerning from a privacy point of view. She questions the effectiveness of using them for minor crimes like littering.
Studies, Miller said, “show that when cameras go up they tend to just push crime to a different area as opposed to stopping crime.”
City officials defend the use and point to the riverfront as proof they work.
“It’s found people doing criminal acts,” said South Sioux City Manager Lance Hedquist, “and we hope that it’s deterred others from coming over here and doing the same thing.”
The Missouri River waterfront in Nebraska for years was a favorite dumping ground, mainly because of its isolated location. The area also has been popular with people off-roading.
South Sioux City Police Chief Scot Ford said they don’t have the resources to have an officer patrol the area. It’s just not practical, he said.
“You’d almost have to have a person down there all the time,” he said.
The city has posted eight cameras near Siouxland Freedom Park. Two are pointed at the John Douangdara Memorial War Dog Park and three are near the Vietnam War Memorial. Three others are on Foundry Road, which runs past the site and dead-ends into the woods near the river.
The cameras are important to making sure the park isn’t damaged, said Mike Newhouse, president of the group developing the site. The park was developed over several years to honor fallen soldiers.
“Before the surveillance became stepped up, there used to be people down there dumping refrigerators and trash bags,” he said.
City officials previously discussed banning plastic bags citywide because of the litter.
Part of the challenge in policing the riverfront area is that Foundry Road crosses the city-county border, police said. The western half, from G Street to the edge of Freedom Park, is in the city and the eastern half is in the county.
South Sioux City police have worked with the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office to monitor the area.
To the north, cameras are near the concession stand and water plant in Scenic Park. Devices also are outside City Hall, the police station and water tower. A camera positioned at the Riverview Drive water tower watches over traffic on the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The system is maintained by South Sioux City Information Technology Director Dan Feenstra. Some cameras have a zoom function, are recorded and can be used for evidence. The network has been paid for through various funding streams, including post-9/11 federal funding for increased security. The city in 2004 received a $457,226 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant for information technology.
Approximately half of the grant was used to add 51 video cameras, Hedquist said.
He said the city has spent roughly $500,000 on cameras over the years. Of that, about 60 percent was paid for with federal funds, Hedquist said.
Signs on light poles and fences tell people about the surveillance in Freedom and Scenic parks.
In addition to the cameras in the parks, the city has another 78-80 fixed cameras spread between the Riverview Drive water treatment plant and water tower, B Street water tower, City Hall, South Sioux City Library, the City-County Law Enforcement Center, Scenic Park Campground, Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA and near the municipal boat ramp, Feenstra said. A camera also monitors traffic flow at U.S. Highway 20 and G Street.
Police can deploy a number of portable motion-sensitive cameras to areas susceptible to graffiti.
The South Sioux City Community School District also has surveillance cameras. Though the schools maintain the system, police can access the school feeds, Hedquist said.
Officials say the school system has more than 100 of its own cameras in addition to the approximately 90 used in the rest of the city.
Frequent park user Asia Lahn, of South Sioux City, said the cameras are beneficial. She doesn’t worry about privacy issues when she walks or jogs the paved path along the Missouri River.
“It’s probably a good thing,” said Lahn, 22. “There’s a lot of people that come down here and do illegal stuff.”
South Sioux City is far from the only agency using surveillance cameras.
The Sioux City Police Department in summer 2012 equipped a patrol car with an $18,000 license-plate scanner. The city also has red-light and Interstate 29 cameras.
The Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota departments of transportation also operate an extensive system of roadway cameras that are accessible online.
The New York City Police Department operates thousands of cameras, which are tied to license-plate scanners and databases.
In South Sioux City, officials also have temporarily installed inexpensive cameras typically used to record wild game to catch graffiti artists. The footage is posted on the Sioux City Police Department Facebook page.
Earlier this year, a teen caught on camera breaking through a barricade near East 29th Street turned himself in to the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. He was trying to off-road near the riverfront, officials said.
In 2012, police released footage of people dumping deer carcasses, tires and yard waste along Foundry Road. Dakota County sheriff’s deputies tracked down a man who dumped bags of yard waste. The man, who was cited, apologized and cleaned up the mess, police said.
Miller, the ACLU official, said there are bigger issues with having so many cameras. She said there’s a risk that law-abiding citizens are losing privacy so police can combat minor crimes.
“What does stop crime is a well-lit area with a police officer on the beat and good community relations between police and citizens who feel comfortable coming forward if they see something,” she said.
Ford, the police chief, said they have no plan to stop using an effective law enforcement tool.
“Cameras are certainly best evidence,” he said. “They’re an actual depiction of what took place and irrefutable evidence.”
Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com
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