Ultimately, we would come down in favor of Forest Park’s decision Jan. 10 to purchase 11 surveillance cameras and to have the police department install them in key spots in the village.
The cameras are a latter-day tool of public safety. Like the addition of body cams for police officers, it is a technology that benefits citizens and works against crime and thuggery, which expands a small police department’s ability to keep watch.
That said, we are grateful to Village Commissioner Jessica Voogd for her strong questioning of Police Chief Ken Gross during the village council meeting. Voogd raised necessary questions, both broad and narrow, about the cameras.
She rightly targeted civil rights issues about the rapidly expanding surveillance society we live in where the free movement of ordinary citizens is increasingly tracked and observed. Whether it is the phones we all carry with us at every moment and their ability to document our whereabouts or the ubiquitouness of tiny cameras in virtually all settings to record our actions, we now live in a society where each of us are under the watch of stores, toll cameras, smart phones, license plate readers, red light cameras, recorded Zoom meetings and soon, locally, the police.
This ought to, at least, give us pause. It represents a vast societal change. Necessary? Yes, you can argue that is. Inevitable? That seems undeniable. But also worth throwing up a cautionary flag, and good for Voogd for doing that.
The commissioner also expressed concerns that village government and its police department have not thought through a plan on how the cameras will be used, monitored, and how possible abuses will be avoided.
Again, this is an essential discussion, the sort of discussion that happens too seldom at Forest Park Village Council meetings. We want to hear more from commissioners. Public discussion and debate ought to be civil but it ought to be a regular occurrence in our public meetings especially when issues of such consequence are on the agenda.
Bringing paramedics in-house
Speaking of issues of consequence, Forest Park is dealing with a real shortage, nationwide, of contracted paramedics. The village has long used a third-party firm, right now Metro Paramedic Service, to provide this essential service. But over recent years the department has had to use its own firefighter paramedics on overtime to fill holes in the third-party staffing.
This has rightly led to early discussions, also happening in other nearby communities, about bringing paramedic services in-house, fully integrated into the fire service.
Seems entirely reasonable, but it is a complex discussion involving unions and health care and tight budgets. Still a good discussion to begin as Forest Park’s con- tract with Metro Paramedic ends in 2023.