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Rib Lake board should drop downtown camera plan

After tossing around and then tabling the issue for months, members of the Rib Lake Village Board should drop plans to install streetlight-mounted video cameras in the downtown area.

The cameras are an unneeded expense at a time when budgets are already tight due to rising material and labor expenses. These costs include both the upfront installation expenses and long-term data storage and management of the cameras’ video files.

After a handful of incidents where there was damage done to buildings in the village’s downtown and a hydrant was struck by a motorist, the idea was raised to install security surveillance cameras to help law enforcement with monitoring the area. Under the proposal, “Big Brother” would always be watching what was going on in the village’s usually sleepy downtown.

Village leaders had hoped to take advantage of the summer road project of rebuilding McComb Avenue to make it easy to install the conduit for the video feed and power to the proposed cameras. That idea has proved to be more hope than reality as hurdles were raised and cost estimates came in.

The camera equipment cost for basic units is about $5,000 with another estimated $2,000 in costs for running the needed conduit. For wireless camera systems the cost estimates start at $10,000, including installation. Upgrades to more functional 360 degree cameras would add thousands more to the project costs.

This is a lot of money to be spending on something that was not a budgeted expense.

Beyond the equipment and installation expense, there has been little discussion as to what the village police department would do with these files. Under Wisconsin’s open records laws, the video footage would be considered public records and fall under the records retention rules. In addition, as a public record the village would have to ensure that people who requested to view or get copies of those records could do so.

Beyond these practical financial concerns, is the belief that people should feel comfortable walking down a street without the fear of being under constant surveillance by government agencies. What is next, searchlights, watch towers and a barbed wire perimeter fence to keep residents where they belong?

The societal cost of America sliding down the path of becoming a surveillance state far outweighs the hefty price tag of installation and upkeep of the proposed cameras.

If private businesses choose to install their own security cameras as a way to protect their property, they are welcome to do so. Law enforcement, through the use of search warrants, already has a mechanism to access those recordings if needed for criminal proceedings.

With potential costs rising, members of the Rib Lake village board should drop plans to install surveillance cameras in the downtown.

Members of The Star News editorial board include Publisher Carol O’Leary, General Manager Kris O’Leary and News Editor Brian Wilson.