MANCHESTER — Police Department’s latest defense for its downtown surveillance cameras: At least five other communities do it.
A wrinkle to their argument: Milford, Concord, Exeter, Salem and Claremont stream their video feeds on the internet for all to see — usually for promotional reasons.
Manchester city officials named the five communities in a 10-page legal brief filed Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court. The brief is a response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by civil libertarians challenging plans for police surveillance cameras on Elm Street.
The lawsuit is led by former Weare state representative Neal Kurk, a longtime privacy advocate who claims the Manchester cameras would violate a state law that specifically forbids using surveillance cameras to capture identifying information like a driver’s face or license plate.
“Other municipalities routinely monitor their public ways,” wrote Peter Chiesa, a deputy Manchester city solicitor, in the legal brief. The list includes website addresses with live video feeds for four of the five communities. The YouTube link for the Concord video said the feed was not available.
The two cameras linked to the Claremont city website transmit images of Broad Street and the North Street park and visitor center every minute.
They stream live video to the police department, said city IT manager Chris Burgess.
He said they are used mainly for marketing purposes. WMUR gives live weather feeds through them.
Claremont has another 60 security cameras at city assets facilities including the police department, city hall, parks and parking garages.
“They’re protecting our employees, our assets, our citizens,” Burgess said.
Police referred questions to Chiesa about whether Manchester would live-stream a feed from Elm Street cameras if they ever install cameras.
“I am not aware of any plans to live-stream feeds. The examples in the (lawsuit) answer merely document what other municipalities are already doing with cameras,” he wrote in an email.
Chiesa, American Civil Liberties Union-New Hampshire lawyers, Kurk and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit appeared in a courtroom Thursday morning, where lawyers were expected to argue their case.
But the judge, Amy Messer, canceled the hearing; a source said Messer had worked for the ACLU in the past and could not hear the case.
Another judge in the courthouse, David Anderson, also had a conflict and could not hear the case. Clerks expected that Judge Diane Nicolosi could hear the arguments some time in July.
“I would have liked to have gotten it done today. All parties would like this resolved as early as possible,” Chiesa said.
ACLU Legal Affairs Director Gilles Bissonnette offered no comment.
Police have removed their temporary surveillance camera at Mechanic and Elm and yet to install the cameras at City Hall Plaza.
Chiesa said the cameras will not be operational until after the proposed July hearing dates.
In his brief, Chiesa said city police checked with the New Hampshire Department of Safety before deciding to install cameras.
Chiesa’s legal response put forth several arguments against the lawsuit:
Kurk and other plaintiffs who signed onto the lawsuit have suffered no injuries, and Kurk, who does not live in Manchester, has no legal standing.
That the city will not use the cameras to determine a car ownership or driver identity, which the 2006 law strictly prohibits.
No provisions in the state or federal constitution prohibit a city from recording activity on public streets or sidewalks.
In more recent actions, the Legislature legalized the use of automated license plate readers.