This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It feels a little like Big Brother, but sounds more like annoying Uncle Ned.
In the name of security, Salt Lake City is poised to erect a series of interactive cameras across the Wasatch Hollow Natural Open Space Area on the capital's east bench.
After recently securing an additional 31/2 acres for open-space protection from the LDS Church, city officials say the measure will stamp out trespassing, teenage drinking parties and vandalism at the still-wild gully northeast of Wasatch Hollow Park at 1650 E. 1700 South.
"The area is now uncontrolled, unpatrolled, and there's a lot of mischief that goes on down there," says City Councilman J.T. Martin, who hatched the camera plan. "This is a very economical way to bring some control over this incredible asset."
Here's how: Unlike ordinary cameras, the devices would be triggered by motion, sending a signal to a security company whose staff would watch the monitors. And because the cameras come equipped with a speaker, the security team can announce the intruder is trespassing on property that has been closed for restoration.
"Leave, and I'll watch you do it," Martin mimics in a sort of audition as a camera cop.
Neither the plan nor purchase of the five cameras has gone through any public process or faced any vote. It simply is a discretionary real-estate transaction, Martin explains.
Some wonder about privacy rights, even though the space technically is off-limits.
Mayor Ralph Becker says his general approach is to "first and foremost" protect privacy rights.
"Public space doesn't mean that Big Brother should be looking over the shoulder of what people are doing," he says. "It's important to start from that premise. But as was true in Pioneer Park, there are times when it's appropriate to look at measures" that balance privacy and security.
Regular cameras, monitored by police personnel, were strung in drug-riddled Pioneer Park earlier this year.
John Spencer, the city's real estate manager, says interactive cameras could have prevented the spree of window bashing that happened this fall at the Ken Garff car lot across the street from City Hall.
At Wasatch Hollow, Martin says, the city frequently finds drug paraphernalia and snipped fences. Sometimes transients are "living down there."
"There's a house down there that's vacant," he says. "You can imagine what an enticement that is."
The cameras, Martin notes, cost less than $30 a month. And Martin downplays the privacy argument, saying anyone found in the hollow already is trespassing.
"It's going to be a grand experiment," he says. "We might find other areas where it's appropriate."
Somewhere, the city's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is watching -- and frowning.
"That's very troubling," says director Karen McCreary, noting the area is public space. She prefers traditional methods of enforcement, such as fences and patrols, and worries that farming out the monitoring to a private entity is ripe for abuse.
"We continue to think that cameras can solve all things by spying on people," McCreary laments. "There's got to be a better approach."