Parks officials said Wednesday night that the first step in determining whether video surveillance cameras should be installed at Waveny is to get a formal, detailed opinion from local police.
An online petition with more than 1,400 digital signatures that advocates for the cameras and data on how such security systems benefit the public are “very important pieces” of the discussion, Parks & Recreation Commission Chair Rona Siegel said during the appointed body’s regular meeting.
And a “recommendation from law enforcement to the town, presented to Parks and Rec is the correct step,” Siegel said at the meeting.
“A clear and concise opinion from law enforcement” that includes recommendations on just where the cameras would go “is what the town needs,” she said at the meeting, held in Town Hall.
Other questions such as what local agency or agencies would have access and jurisdiction over video content and how long it would remain before officials taped over it also must be part of the town’s decision, officials said. Siegel and Commissioner Matt Konspore agreed to form a committee that will take the lead on behalf of the group and report back with a proposed framework at its July 10 meeting.
Ultimately, municipal bodies including the Board of Selectmen and Town Council also would need to approve a proposal to introduce cameras at the entrances to or inside Waveny (there are already four hard-wired surveillance cameras at Waveny Pool).
A local group led by Hilary Ormond—a trial lawyer, Waveny user and New Canaan mom who also holds a master’s degree in forensic psychology—launched the online petition after a vehicle belonging to Jennifer Dulos was found on Lapham Road near the park’s southern edge on May 24, the day she went missing.
“Like many others in New Canaan and beyond, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos,” Ormond told the Commission. “My shock was compounded by the revelation that there are no cameras at Waveny Park that might possibly have captured images of whoever abandoned Mrs. Dulos’s car on Lapham Road on the day she disappeared. I thought that surely there must be cameras there in this day and age, and especially since a teenage girl had been verbally harassed there on Halloween in 2017 and that several cars had been broken into in the last year or so.”
Video cameras have “unique value” for law enforcement, she said, including as a deterrent.
“It’s an indisputable fact that some crimes will not be committed because cameras are there,” she said. “Now, will cameras prevent all crimes? Of course not. So then camera footage serves another important law enforcement purpose as an apprehension tool against evidence. We’ve seen that in the Dulos case, where camera footage so far has been so critical.”
She referred to municipal video cameras in north Hartford that captured footage of what police believe to be the missing woman’s estranged husband, and his girlfriend, dumping items on the day she disappeared that contain Jennifer Dulos’s blood, as well as a call from police for video from home- and business-based surveillance cameras to assist in the investigation.
“I cannot imagine where the [Dulos] case would be without it,” she said.
More generally, she said, “camears provide us, the users of Waveny Park, with peace of mind.”
“Waveny hosts so many wonderful events, as you all know. Tonight in fact, the Waveny Concert Series starts and on this beautiful evening no doubt many of our friends and families are there. Tickets for July 4 just went on sale. Kids sports of all kinds happen there. There’s Waveny Pool, theater events, Carriage Barn event” as well as the dog park and walking trails.
“These are things that people of all ages use Waveny park for year-round and while Waveny Park is historically extremely safe, the Dulos case has unfortunately highlighted the fact that it lacks camera monitoring, and that should give all of us pause,” Ormond said.
The petition she posted online garnered 500 signatures within hours and more than 1,000 signatures in less than two days, Ormond said.
Even so, not all of the response to the petition has been supportive, she said.
“A sampling of what I heard—and I’ll address them briefly here, is, first of all, privacy concerns. Now first, I’ll admit, as a liberal-leaning lawyer there’s perhaps no one in town more ready to defend an individual’s privacy rights. That said, I fully understand that there’s absolutely no rights to privacy in a public space. To be clear, we are not asking for cameras in bathroom stalls, or anywhere in the public parks where there might be an expectation of privacy. But I can’t imagine any scenario where one could credibly argue for a right to privacy at the entrances and exits of Waveny Park or along the walking trails.”
Some who have criticized the idea of cameras in Waveny also have said it’s “too expansive to cover with cameras.”
“And that might be true,” Ormond said, “but even if we can’t do everything, even if we can’t film everywhere, it doesn’t mean that we do nothing. This is related to a third complaint that it’s too expensive. Honestly, I can think of no better way to spend funds than our safety except for perhaps the education of our children, but the two kind of go hand in hand. Plus in day and age I’m certain that technology has evolved in such a way that we can find a way to do this that is cost-effective. We can find a way to spend $30,000 to fund a town survey, among other things. Certainly we can find the money to do something here.”
Finally, Ormond said, she’s heard some critics say that “now is not the time to do something like this.”
“On this point I actually tend to agree somewhat, only I think it’s long past the time to do something like this,” she said. “The time to do this was perhaps in October 2017 when that young woman was harassed, and every female jogger in this town felt that much more vulnerable, because news flash: We generally always feel vulnerable. Or perhaps last year when those cars were broken into, or maybe even 20 years ago when that high school boy was beaten with a baseball bat. The time is now. Please for the peace of mind and safety of all those who use this park, let’s get this done.”
Commissioner Sally Campbell asked Ormond what other towns do with respect to security cameras in parks. Ormond responded that Greenwich Point Park has one at the gate, and more research can be done to find out what other municipalities do.
“I think the type you use and how’s put in is one aspect of the whole story,” Campbell said. “The biggest thing is: Is it necessary? Obviously it appears to be something that could be useful …I am just curious as to what other municipalities do, because we cannot be the first people facing this.”
Recreation Director Steve Benko said that in addition to figuring out what type of equipment New Canaan may want to install, officials must figure out what kind of infrastructure would be needed to support it. For example, solar power may be ruled out in some parts of the park because the tree canopy blocks the sun.
Ormond said the town may land on a solution that sees the cameras phased in over time.
“Perhaps there is a way to roll it out if there is a camera at the entrances and exits so that at least we are seeing who is coming and going,” she said. “That there is some record of it, even if it is not on all the walking trails.”
The only other meeting attendee to address the Commission was New Canaan resident Craig Donovan, who holds as doctorate degree public administration. In speaking to colleagues and criminal justice professionals, Donovan said, he learned that video cameras in public places lead to “a measurable reduction in crime.”
“There is also an increased perception of safety which is not only for the individuals using the public space, but as it becomes known that those spaces are under surveillance, they become identified as poor places to commit a crime. So even knowing the camera is there, even if you are not sure where the camera is, it helps reduce crime in an area. So the data shows that if we go with cameras like this in our public spaces, it will have a positive effect on the community and it will have a positive effect on reducing crime.”
Asked in the past for his thoughts on the matter, New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said in an emailed response that considering the heavy use of Waveny, it is “very safe.” With that said, Krolikowski added that cameras should be installed at the parks entrances and exists, ideally capturing license plate information.
—Olivia Flaherty-Lovy contributed to this article