With The dot’s construction almost complete, the Ferndale City Council approved an ordinance to regulate public surveillance technology. The move was made as cameras will be installed in the parking structure.

With The dot’s construction almost complete, the Ferndale City Council approved an ordinance to regulate public surveillance technology. The move was made as cameras will be installed in the parking structure.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Ferndale to regulate surveillance cameras as ‘The dot’ nears completion

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published September 22, 2020


FERNDALE — With The Development on Troy, or “The dot,” to be completed before the end of the year, the Ferndale City Council took up an issue related to the project: public surveillance technology.

At its Sept. 14 meeting, the council approved an ordinance to regulate public surveillance technology. The ordinance came forward as cameras will be installed in The dot, which — outside of City Hall and the Kulick Community Center — will be the first city-sponsored cameras in a public facility, according to city documents. There also are security cameras located at the city’s Department of Public Works yard at the southwest storage yard and water pump stations.

“With the completion of The dot pending, that will involve a public parking structure that will have security cameras available to us,” said City Manager Joe Gacioch. “We wanted to make sure that we were transparent and proactive in our goal to regulate said installation of cameras on public property by the public.”

In a presentation to council, Gacioch laid out how the ordinance would work in instances of short-term and long-term cameras in Ferndale. For short-term surveillance cameras that would be in place for 90 days or less, the city manager may authorize temporary cameras if they are targeting a specific crime threat or activity, do not cover the interior of private property, and if the footage storage is compliant with ordinance requirements. He compared the concept to a temporary traffic control order by a police chief.

For cameras that would be in place for longer than 90 days, the city manager must submit a camera location map 30 days after they’re installed, the cameras will not record audio, and footage from the camera will not be stored beyond 30 days, except in cases of a criminal investigation. Facial recognition technology is prohibited, and there will not be any live feeds of the cameras, though all footage is subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Cameras are also to be installed in a fixed position,” Gacioch said. “This is to clarify that ... it will not be a moving target. The camera will be fixed based on the map that I submit to you for public record.”

Gacioch noted, in terms of access, the Police Department and other law enforcement will have authority to obtain footage, as do individuals involved in a legal proceeding, and the city manager.

The city’s ordinance committee was tasked with reviewing the document before it came to council. The members of the committee are Councilwomen Kat Bruner James and Laura Mikulski, City Clerk Marne McGrath, City Attorney Dan Christ, and the City Manager’s Office.

James said the committee wanted to find a balance in what the ordinance would allow, as there are only so many options available.

“We can ban the city from having any camera anywhere that would capture any public space, or we can allow the extreme proliferation of camera usage, or we can find something in between that seems like a reasonable use and reasonable restriction on how we use these cameras,” she said. “I can say with a level of comfort that Councilwoman Mikulski and I both took that balancing very seriously in wanting to allow and acknowledge the tool that’s already being used in certain places in the city, but putting some checks and balances on it that allow the public to know where these are placed, who to contact if they have questions about them, to know that facial recognition technology is not going to be used because of some fairly serious deficiencies that that technology has and the ways that it’s been inappropriate and (the) discriminatory ways that it’s been used.”

James said if something needed to be changed in the future regarding the ordinance, council would be open to that.

“We spent a lot of time on this. We went over it a number of times, but if anyone has concerns … whether they want to pull a lever a little farther in one direction or the other, I’m open to that,” she said.

According to Christ, the ordinance does not affect the ability of private business owners to install their own security cameras on their buildings in the downtown and around Ferndale, and only relates to city-owned public surveillance cameras.