Traffic Cameras Help UDOT, but Not law Enforcement
April 24th, 2006 @ 2:39pm

Randall Jeppesen Reporting

A growing number of large US cities are installing cameras around the town to watch for crime, but here in Utah, law enforcement agencies say they haven't taken that step.

In New York City, police are installing hundreds of cameras to watch for street crime and possible terrorist activities. Here in Utah, Department of Public Safety spokesperson Derek Jensen says they do have access to the traffic cameras.

"It's not one of those big brother is watching types of things. In fact, the cameras don't even record. It's live and we can see what's happening but they don't record anything."

He says their dispatchers use the cameras daily.

"They're in the traffic operations center in Salt Lake. We have 323 cameras state-wide. They can actually directly control the cameras. And we certainly allow that because it helps with law enforcement."

UDOT's Nile Easton says the cameras have been a crucial tool in improving emergency response times.

"They can help identify whether or not there needs to be emergency responders coming out, whether it's a fender bender, do we need a life-flight? A lot of that can happen in those first few minutes when those cameras can spot that and help law enforcement on the ground get to that location."

But Easton says you don't need to worry that the cameras are being used to find certain people or even track license plates. They can't even tell how fast you're going.

"You know we can zoom down pretty tight, but the resolution is never clear enough do either identify faces or to even look at license plate numbers. We can tell what type of car it is, but that's about as far as we can go."

And if you do get caught speeding, the cameras can't get you off the hook

"We often get requests from people who get a speeding ticket or have a moving violation, who want to try to pull our cameras up to back up their case that they weren't. And we can't do that because we don't have enough tape to just record all day long."

In cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, where police use cameras for more than just traffic, privacy advocates have been voicing concerns.