Share This Article
Despite heavy push back from local activists and concerned citizens, Mountain Home Police Department’s request for new crime prevention cameras has been approved.
In a 5-3 vote, Mountain Home City Council approved the measure after participating in a back and forth debate with the packed crowd at City Hall on Thursday evening. The council pushed through multiple readings before City Councilman Jim Bodenhamer moved to adopt the bill.
Voting for the adoption were Jim Bodenhamer, Jennifer Baker, Nick Reed, Carry Manuel and Bob Van Haaren. Voting against adoption were Paige Evans, Susan Stockton and Wayne Almond.
No member of city council attempted to pass a motion to table the ordinance.
Both Baker and Bodenhamer announced their support for the crime prevention cameras before the floor was opened up to public comment.
“I appreciate the privacy concerns,” said Bodenhamer during the meeting. “But when these gentlemen, who I respect, come to me and need a tool to help in certain situations, I’m going to support it. I’m going to move that we put this on a third reading.”
Thursday night’s debate was hot, with Mountain Home Police Chief Eddie Griffin attempting to calm the crowd by addressing their concerns, which ranged from constitutional privacy rights to public access to camera footage, officer misconduct, and hacking concerns.
To start, Griffin was asked by Baker, who was not in attendance for the first meeting over the cameras, to inform the members of the crowd about why MHPD saw a need to place the cameras in nine locations around Mountain Home.
Griffin began by reminding the crowd of Dr. David Millstein, whose murder by his stepson, Gary Wayne Parks, rocked the Mountain Home community in 2006. In that case, MHPD initially struggled to find leads over possible suspects, leading to a six year gap before Parks was ultimately arrested for his crime.
Griffin said having the cameras would have been a game changer in the Millstein case.
“We didn’t have the cameras back then,” Griffin said. “If we had, it would have totally changed the dynamics for that case. That case went six years before an arrest was made. It was somewhat of a weak case. We just didn’t have a lot of good evidence. Some cell tower stuff was really the best thing we had. Well, he ultimately plead guilty to second degree murder. I think if we had those cameras, he would have never had the option to plead down to second degree murder.”
Parks is currently a suspect in the murder of his mother’s first husband Luther Gerald Parks Jr., who was shot to death in 1993.
Members of the crowd were skeptical of Griffin’s pitch, noting that there were several ways to get in and out of Mountain Home without crossing paths with the proposed cameras. Griffin conceded that Parks could have entered and left the town by backroads.
Following his public pitch, Griffin promised the crowd that the cameras would not be used for traffic violations, while promising to take the cameras down himself if laws changed to allow the cameras to be used in that manner.
“Nobody cares about the Constitutional rights of this community and our way of life, more than me,” Griffin said. “If the federal government wants to dictate how we use those cameras, if the mayor can come up with a bucket truck, I’ll take them down myself. They’re to protect this community and nothing else.”
In addition to stating the public would own the cameras, Griffin said that officers’ behavior surrounding the camera footage would be regularly audited, in a similar manner to how body camera footage is audited. Data not used will be removed in 20 days if Griffin and his operations manager determine the footage is not needed.
Only a few select members of MHPD, CID and dispatch will have the ability to access the cameras. Only Griffin’s assistant police chief and operations manager would have administrative access to the camera’s software. Regular patrol officers will not be able to access the cameras.
Griffin was then asked about what would prompt a review of video footage.
“A crime being committed,” Griffin answered. “No one will be monitoring the footage all of the time, but they can be pulled up and reviewed if there is a reported incident that needs to be investigated. For instance, if you called to report your white four door pickup truck was stolen, if you can give us a timeframe, we can pull the footage and review it in that stated timeframe and determine if your vehicle was seen on any of the footage.”
The server storage for the camera footage would be encrypted. When asked about potential hackings, Griffin responded by stating, “the last time I checked the federal government has been hacked by China. We’re as secure as anybody, but nothing is perfect.”
When asked if the public would be able to monitor the cameras themselves, Griffin replied by saying no live feed would be available, though the public could FOIA footage.
When asked about potential abuse of the cameras involving his officers, Griffin said, “anytime an officer does anything inappropriately, or there’s an accusation that he’s done anything appropriate, we have an early warning system that could result in an internal investigation, but even if it’s something minor and doesn’t rise to the point of an internal investigation, it’s still documented.
“We write up. We talk to our officers about what we should do differently to meet the criteria and do things properly,” Griffin continued. “Everything we do is documented.”
During the meeting, several individuals raised concerns over the Fourth Amendment rights in regard to cameras, prompting Griffin to discuss expectations of privacy while out in public in Arkansas.
“The state of Arkansas doesn’t look at it like that,” Griffin said. “There is not an expectation of privacy with this. It is the same concept as if you were walking down your street and were able to look into your neighbor’s car because it’s parked on the street. These cameras cannot see that well into the cars as it is, so don’t feel as though they are focusing on drivers.”
Griffin also noted that many of the locations that MHPD’s new cameras would be placed at, are already monitored by ARDOT cameras 24/7.
As the debate went on, Griffin and the council continued to receive push back, with one resident stating, “I feel this money could go towards other things, like fixing the roads, installing another traffic camera, or hiring more teams to mow areas where the grass is high around town.”
Another woman stated that, “if you want to put cameras around here, we should put cameras in your offices and watch you in your cars and on your phones, and things like that. That would be equal protection.”
Martin Nicholson, a former resident of Delaware who moved to Mountain Home after watching his previous state implement the same policies, gave a small speech, detailing several camera hackings throughout the United States, before discussing how cameras have done little to prevent crime in major cities.
“In Atlanta, Georgia, 24,800 cameras. High crime rate,” Nicholson said. “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 28,000 cameras. High crime rate. Denver, Colorado, 12,000 cameras. Washington, DC., 11,000 cameras. High crime rate.”
“I don’t need to remind the police department or remind council, as councilman, we work for the people,” Nicholson continued. “We don’t work for police; we don’t work for corporate interests. We work for the people. I’ve heard nothing but dissension in these ranks, and everyone I’ve talked to in town, they don’t want this system. Period. They don’t want it.”
Nicholson concluded by calling on members of city council to pass a motion to table the measure.
“It doesn’t take three readings for somebody to file a motion and table this bill forever,” Nicholson said.
MHPD’s cameras will be placed at intersections on State Hwy. 5N and U.S. Hwy 62B, 62B and Cardinal Dr., 62B and Club Blvd, State Hwy. 201 S. and the Sheid-Hopper Bypass, Hospital Dr. and State Hwy. 5 N., the west end of the bypass, the east end of the bypass, Arkansas Ave. and State Hwy. 201 N., and Cardinal Dr. and State Hwy. 5 S.