SUPERIOR — The public safety committee on Thursday, May 19, approved a city preemption system and forwarded the proposal to the finance committee for consideration. A request to test automated license plate reading cameras has been held until June pending further information.
The preemption system would allow all of Superior’s emergency vehicles to disrupt the city’s 21 traffic lights to clear intersections during an emergency response. The cost of installing the system was estimated at around $200,000.
Councilman Tylor Elm said the system made sense; Councilman Nick Ledin said that’s something the city is lagging behind. The question for council, said director of public works Todd Janigo, is what is the priority of the system.
If it was inserted into the system of the capital improvement project and went through the budgeting process, it could be installed no earlier than 2023. The project does not fall under the infrastructure bill, Janigo said, so these funds would not be available. It could, however, be funded with $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars that the city has yet to allocate.
Senior Fire Chief Scott Gordon said he approached Mayor Jim Paine about the possibility of using the money for a pre-emptive system.
“He had kind of challenged us as department heads to come up with new creative ways to spend that money in line with the directive. I was in his office the next morning,” Gordon said.
The mayor said it needed to be reviewed by the public safety committee, which is why the topic has been on the agenda since February.
The top police department is calling for a trial of cameras that would take a series of still images, targeting license plates and vehicles that match descriptions of vehicles being stolen or involved in crimes. A sample policy that would apply to automated license plate readers was presented to the committee by Captain Paul Winterscheidt of the Senior Police Department.
Duluth has between 150 and 180 cameras operating on its public streets, according to senior police chief Nicholas Alexander, including two mobile units in squad cars. He said they’ve had automated license plate readers for at least five years. According to the Wisconsin ALPR Association membership list, 51 cities in Wisconsin use such cameras.
“With these cameras here, they’re following, basically observing information in a public space that people don’t expect privacy,” Winterscheidt said, so a warrant wouldn’t be necessary.
He compared them to security cameras that companies use to monitor the exterior of their buildings. They only take photos, no audio, and focus on vehicles.
Linda Cadotte, Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, suggested including park access roads on the list of areas to monitor with cameras.
“I feel like every time something happens, social media goes off, ‘Why doesn’t the city have cameras?'” Cadotte said.
If officials have decided not to go ahead with a camera system, she said, those questions need to be answered.
“I feel like more people in the community have been bullying, especially on social media, ‘get those cameras,'” Cadotte said.
Ledin said he had a long list of questions, both about the privacy issues involved and the recurring annual cost of renting the cameras. Alexander asked advisers to provide a list of questions so the department can have answers ready for the next meeting.