Surveillance Cameras Make Their Way to Small Towns

The Associated Press - Monday, February 06, 2006


With a population of 418 people, Sanborn has no school, no grocery store and no traffic light.

But the southwestern Minnesota town has nine surveillance video cameras monitoring all four streets leading into town and preserves the recorded images for two weeks.

Sanborn is among a growing number of small towns to include cameras - often common in large cities - in their law enforcement budgets. Such video systems - purchased with federal Homeland Security money in some towns - have upset privacy advocates.

Concerns over drugs, burglaries and suspected anhydrous ammonia thefts prompted Sanborn officials to mount the cameras. The town has no police force and the Redwood County Sheriff's Office is 23 miles away.

"The system's not there to catch somebody stumbling out of the bar or taking a leak around the corner or see who's going home with who," said Martin Ziegler, owner of Deutschland Meats and a leader of a Neighborhood Watch group that pushed for the cameras.

Officials hope video tapes from the camera will help the sheriff's department solve crime when it happens.

"It doesn't tell us exactly who done it," Mayor Charlie Hosack said, "but it tells us who was in town."

Surveillance cameras are common in large cities. Minneapolis has 29 downtown. London has more than 6,000 in its subway system alone.

But they have spread to small towns like Ridgely, Md., only recently. The police chief of Ridgely, a town of 1,500 people, said the town used $7,000 in Homeland Security grant to install five cameras to deter crime. Criteria for Homeland Security grants are so tight - weapons and generators don't qualify, for instance - that "it's tough to come up with something to be able to buy," said Merl Evans. "The cameras fit in really well."

Sanborn used city funds and donations to pay for the $28,000 project. Operating the cameras, some of which provide close-up shots of license plates, cost $12 a month, officials said.

The cameras were installed in November, after two drug dealers, who were later arrested, took up residence, causing others to worry, city officials said.

But not everyone agrees with the city's approach.

"For me, the jury's still out," said Warren Gramstad, whose Gramstad Lumber office was burglarized recently. Sheriff's officers viewed videotapes but couldn't immediately trace the license plate of a suspect car.

At least one young man mooned Sanborn's cameras, locals said. But no one would have been watching. The system's computer monitor is in Clerk-Treasurer Judy Trebesch's office, but, she said, "I stay away from it as far as I can."

Information from: Star Tribune,


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