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May 20, 2009 News » Cover Story

How They Watch 

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Facial Recognition on UTA Buses
The list of “shovel-ready” projects Salt Lake City tossed out for consideration in the Obama stimulus plan included $150,000 to install facial-recognition technology on UTA busses, at TRAX stations and at bus terminals. The proposal called for 100 cameras and funding for one employee to monitor the system.

Whole-Body Imaging
New passenger screening devices installed at the Salt Lake City airport bounce millimeter waves off of a person’s body, producing an image without clothes. The federal Transportation Security Administration says because of “wide-spread public acceptance” during a test of the systems in Salt Lake City the machines will become the country’s main passenger screening technology. Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz is fighting that, saying the government “doesn’t need to see my 8-year-old daughter naked.”

Aerial Surveillance Drone
A small pilotless plane equipped with cameras and controlled remotely from the ground, the drone would “monitor crowd and event situations.” Salt Lake City listed the drone as a possible use for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus money, saying the $200,000 expenditure could create one job. The city has not yet submitted a formal grant request for the project.

Utah Fusion Center
A March 2009 grant request from Salt Lake City to the federal Homeland Security Department asks for $789,000 worth of “data gathering, mining, and analysis software to perform terrorist threat and crime analysis.” The money would be added to $231,000 awarded to Salt Lake City in early 2009 and $370,000 already granted to Utah to continue development of the Utah Fusion Center, which connects computerized records databases from local law enforcement, private companies and federal Homeland Security.

Camera-watching Computers
The Salt Lake City mayor’s office said three jobs could be created by spending $214,000 of federal stimulus money on software that would let computers “watch” surveillance cameras. Such systems would recognize motion recorded by cameras then “notify monitoring employees of suspicious activities.” The city has not yet submitted a formal grant request for the project.

License-Plate Reading Cameras
In use by the SLPC for more than a year, special cameras mounted to the top of some squad cars “read” license plates. Attached computers instantly run plate numbers checking for parking tickets, expired tags, driver license infractions and “wanted” cars. Salt Lake City’s stimulus wish list included $256,000 to outfit two additional squad cars with the $45,000 license plate system and fund two officers to drive them.

Portable Surveillance System
In February, Salt Lake City Police received a grant to purchase portable surveillance systems to be used at “buffer zone sites.” The sites, some of which are secret, are considered by federal Homeland Security offices to be vulnerable to terrorists. The $361,000 grant will purchase a “Proxy Wireless Surveillance System” and equipment to take panoramic (360 degree) video and still images. To make sense of the images, the system will be topped off with “Orator Plus,” the dream presentation software for anyone who ever wanted to be in a situation room.

Video-Surveillance Camera Partnership Program
In 2008, Salt Lake City awarded grants to businesses willing to install video surveillance systems. The city pays for half the cost on condition that the businesses grant “remote access, unlimited operability and use by the police department during all business hours of operations.” Targeted for the federal program were nightclubs, restaurants, and “areas that attract youth and young adults as a ‘hangout.’” At least 13 businesses are known to have participated.

Cop-Car Cameras
In early 2009, the Salt Lake City Police Department received a $93,530 federal grant to purchase in-car video cameras for six squad cars. The cameras move the department closer to a goal of placing video in all first-responder vehicles. Some criminal defense attorneys and civil libertarians favor the cameras, saying they protect both suspects and police from false accusations during arrests.

Read more on how Utah cities propose to use federal stimulus money.

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