Island County mulls camera request

Commissioners consider if allowing roadside cameras on county right-of-way might set a precedent.

Island County commissioners are mulling the possibility of what precedent allowing roadside cameras on county right-of-way might set.

During a work session this week, the commissioners and Public Works Director Connie Bowers discussed a request from a South Whidbey property owner to install their own surveillance cameras to monitor a parking lot in the Sandy Point area near Marissa Lane.

“I believe this is for a small community to be able to kind of keep an eye on and track vehicles that use that parking lot on their private space as well as roads in that area,” Bowers told the commissioners.

She added that having the two cameras located on county right-of-way, rather than private property, presumably gives a better view of the lot that is being monitored.

Right off the bat, Commissioner Jill Johnson expressed strong concerns about government overreach and sponsorship of the cameras. She also questioned the owner of the cameras’ plans for enforcement once they see something unsatisfactory happening other than cars parking, such as drug use.

Commissioner Janet St. Clair voiced concerns about equity issues and racial profiling, pointing to an example in a past community she lived in where people were monitored.

Johnson worried that this might be the wrong time, culturally, for county government to start getting involved in putting up cameras.

“It’s not that I want bad or criminal behavior to happen in the community, but I want to be protective of people’s rights and privacy and also acknowledge fears,” she said. “We are not in a culture today that is trusting of government.”

Commissioner Melanie Bacon agreed with Johnson that both right- and left-leaning folks distrust the government because they have their own ideas of freedom.

Bowers said she would reach out to the person who submitted the application for the cameras to get some more background information and context. The commissioners agreed to let the issue “percolate,” and to discuss it again at a later date.