Smile: You’re on Camera

License plate reader

A license-plate reader installed near Little Stony Point (Photo by M. Turton)

Cold Spring police install license-plate readers

Cameras installed over Main Street and Route 9D earlier this month now capture the license plate numbers of every vehicle entering or leaving Cold Spring.

The three cameras, installed for the Cold Spring Police Department, are located in Philipstown on Route 9D just south of Peekskill Road and at Little Stony Point Park and in Nelsonville on Main Street (Route 301) just east of Peekskill Road. Routes 301 and 9D are state roads.

Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke said on Thursday (July 22) that the cameras are used only to assist with investigations, not to police traffic infractions such as speeding, seat-belt use or expired registrations. 

“I know people’s fear is Big Brother is watching,” he said. “They’re used only for criminal investigations or locating missing persons. We’re not looking to give out cheap tickets.”

The cameras, which cost $20,604, were purchased with money provided by the Putnam County district attorney’s office from its asset forfeiture fund at no cost to the village. Burke said he consulted with the Sheriff’s Department to select locations to cover all entrances and exits from Cold Spring, which meant placing them outside village limits. 

“If I had placed them inside the village, there would have been too many ways to get around the cameras,” he said. 

At the July 6 meeting of the Village Board, Mayor Dave Merandy said he hadn’t realized the cameras would be installed outside Cold Spring, and as a result, officials in Philipstown and Nelsonville were not notified until after the fact. 

Burke said the cameras would have helped with crimes that have occurred on Main Street, such as a burglary at Joseph’s Fine Jewelry in 2017 in which early morning thieves used a rotary saw to cut a hole in the glass front door. 

‘There aren’t many cars leaving the village at 4 a.m.,” Burke said, noting it wouldn’t take long to make a list of license plates to investigate. 

license-plate reader

A license-plate reader installed near Little Stony Point (Photo by M. Turton)

The cameras also have assisted with locating missing persons, Burke noted. He cited the case of a Cold Spring resident suffering from Alzheimer’s who left the village by car. He was located after his license plate was recorded by a camera in Danbury, Connecticut, Burke said. 

All photos from the Cold Spring cameras, which capture the license plate and usually the driver, are instantly transmitted to the Westchester/Putnam Real Time Crime Center. If a plate is associated with an investigation, missing person or Amber Alert when a child has been abducted or is in danger, the Cold Spring police are notified “in about a minute,” Burke said. 

He said the department will soon acquire a smartphone dedicated to alerts from the crime center, shortening the notification time further. Notifications are shared with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies. 

At a Nelsonville Village Board meeting on Monday (July 19), Mayor Michael Bowman said its members “were a little bit ticked off because we weren’t consulted or alerted” and that Burke had apologized for the lack of communication.

Chris Keeley, the husband of Trustee Chris Winward and a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, asked why the Cold Spring police had the “jurisdictional authority to come in and install something on our street” and quipped that a few residents might go out surreptitiously and remove the camera. 

“I wouldn’t go that route,” Bowman responded.

Last year, citing privacy issues — although license-plate readers are installed outdoors on public roads — the Putnam County Legislature conducted a protracted debate over policies for use of the cameras before allowing the Sheriff’s Department to supply them to the Cold Spring police. 

Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong contributed reporting.

10 thoughts on “Smile: You’re on Camera

  1. First of all, kudos to the Current for your valuable in-depth coverage of local events and politics, but especially articles like this one.

    I am shocked and appalled that the residents of Cold Spring/ Phlipstown are not up in arms about this massive invasion of privacy that has just been foisted not just on their town, but on the thousands of people in neighboring communities who drive through every day. If they won’t protest then who will stand up for Liberty and Civil Rights in Putnam County? Where are the elected officials? As per usual, nowhere to be found.

    I thought that the residents of Cold Spring were all in on the Black Lives Matter and De-fund the Police movements, yet not a peep when their own police department imposes tracking devices that have been universally condemned as being intrusive and unconstitutional.

    As someone who drives to Cold Spring several times a week, I find it unconscionable that the Cold Spring Police Department and who knows what other agencies, now have detailed records of my license plate number and other data that they have no business knowing and storing. Who’s idea was this and why weren’t there public hearings for the entire County since this literally affects thousands of people who drive through the Village?

    Notice the lame justification for the spying- a robbery on Main Street that took place 4 years ago! Why wasn’t this inane excuse challenged? Instead, this is now being presented with a reference to the old Candid Camera show when in reality it is Big Brother and 1984.

    If you want to know just how egregious the plate readers are, this article from the ACLU is most instructive.

    “Automatic license plate readers have the potential to create permanent records of virtually everywhere any of us has driven, radically transforming the consequences of leaving home to pursue private life, and opening up many opportunities for abuse. The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit.”

    I urge every resident of Cold Spring / Philipstown to read this article and then do their own research. Is this really the kind of police “protection” that you want for your town? Maybe you should also ask yourselves- why do you even need your own personal police department in the first place seeing as how you are already paying for the Sheriff and state police, especially when it is imposing this kind of surveillance on law abiding citizens.

    The saddest thing of all is that probably 99% of the residents don’t know or care that they are now being spied on by an unaccountable and out of control police agency that can use their private data for any purpose they want.

    Unlike your computer where you can install blockers, filters and anti-spyware- there is no hiding from Cold Spring’s Big Brother. It remains to be seen what the consequences will be, if any.

  2. 1984 arrives in Cold Spring. It is reported that “(t)he cameras, funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security, were provided by Putnam County at no cost to the village”. To this I say beware of Greeks bearing gifts. There is no such a thing as a free camera.

    The statements “(I) know people’s fear is Big Brother is watching” and, “(t)hey’re used only for criminal investigations or locating missing persons” are contradicted by “(a)ll photos from the Cold Spring cameras, which capture the license plate and usually the driver, are instantly transmitted to the Westchester/Putnam Real Time Crime Center.”

    The data will be sold or otherwise transferred, to be used for marketing, control, and who knows what else.

    • I totally agree that there is no such thing as a “free meal” and we will pay for these spy cameras one way or the other.

      The bigger issue to me as a former business owner is why do the taxpayers of Cold Spring even want another police department when it takes up such a big part of the budget?

      It’s not like the Village is a high-crime area, yet the people insist on having a third layer of police protection. What’s that all about?

      Putnam Valley and Cortlandt which are much larger than CS, got rid of their police departments years ago and never looked back. The sheriff and the state police do a great job.

  3. License-plate readers may be useful to police, but at what cost to citizens?

    There is no legal expectation of privacy when citizens are in public, but with the proliferation of government technology along our roads and elsewhere, should citizens expect surveillance? That seems to be counter to the spirit of the Fourth Amendment. What is the number of investigations aided or solved by electronic surveillance locally per year divided by the number of motorists surveilled? I’m sure it is a tiny fraction. Are we all willing to accept that we are being watched for no particular reason? How can we be sure that all data is destroyed immediately unless it is used for an investigation?

    Assurances by police are not enough. The police are an authoritarian paramilitary invested with enormous power and a lot of discretion granted them by the courts in the use of that power. There is a reason police work is called law “enforcement.” As the saying goes, power corrupts. This does not apply to all members of our police forces but it does apply to some and that makes me wonder: Who is on the other side of the screen?

  4. There’s so much speeding on village streets, I almost wouldn’t mind more of what Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke referred to as “cheap tickets.” [via Facebook]

  5. There has to be a better use of resources than these cameras — we are already severely overpoliced. Unfortunately, most people in Philipstown are afraid of their own shadow, so we’ll get cameras, plate readers and whatever other toys law enforcement wants to use on us. [via Facebook]

  6. This isn’t anything new. Cashless tolls are collected via cameras that read your license plate. There are red light cams and traffic cams all over the place. Most businesses and many homes have security cameras. Your browsing data is monitored by your internet service provider. Your phone tracks your location. Websites track you.

    This has been the “new” Cold Spring and the new everywhere for decades — not that I’m a fan of these cameras, one of which is located almost directly across the street from me. [via Facebook]

  7. What kind of “investigations” will these images be used for? Is there that much crime in Cold Spring to warrant such tactics? [via Facebook]

  8. If you’re not in a flagged vehicle because you are wanted for a serious crime, or the vehicle or plates aren’t stolen or the vehicle isn’t connected to a missing or endangered person, you shouldn’t be concerned about plate readers. You should be more concerned about the videos taken by security cameras in just about every store and public place. Some of the owners of those cameras have such poor lack of control over their systems that you don’t know who views or shares the images. [via Facebook]

  9. I have nothing to hide. They can watch me as much as they want. [via Instagram]