How did we end up with a $30,000 spy pole in Berry Hill Skate Park?
It was largely due to the efforts of Lexington Urban County Council member Fred Brown.
Brown represents the 8th District, which includes Berry Hill Skate Park, tucked in a residential area along Buckhorn Drive. He initiated a study to explore the possibility of putting surveillance cameras in Lexington parks last year.
The study culminated in a presentation by Department of Public Safety administrative officer Dean Marcum during the Nov. 1, 2016 meeting of the Government and Social Services Committee. The committee voted to authorize the installation of a four-camera system at Berry Hill as a pilot program.
The full council gave its approval in January 2017.
Meet the Man Behind the Lens
Brown worked as a CPA and is a career Lexington politician. He served on the Urban County Council from 1994 to 2004. Brown jumped back into local politics in 2014. He defeated LeTonia Jones 57.3 percent to 42.7 percent in the November 2014 election to reclaim his seat. He ran unopposed in the 2016 election.
Brown comes across as a typical “law and order” politician with authoritarian tendencies. In a 2016 Fayette Alliance candidate questionnaire, Brown listed “public safety” as the number one issue facing Lexington. Putting his actions where his mouth is, Brown spearheaded efforts to “update” Lexington’s curfew for teens.
During the 2014 campaign, the Herald Leader reported Brown was focused on crime “because his district, which runs from Tates Creek to Alumni outside of New Circle Road, is diverse.”
That sounds kind of like, “We need to worry about crime because there are a lot of brown people in my district.”
This kind of attitude from somebody pushing for surveillance should raise concern. In many cities, surveillance programs have disproportionately targeted both ethnic and religious minority communities.
Surveillance in Parks
Brown wants cameras in all of Lexington parks, but started by pushing for a pilot program at Berry Hill. It appears he worked with Marcum to put the program together and presented it last November.
Brown’s arrogance was front and center during discussion about the cameras.
He claimed it was difficult to notify the neighborhood about the proposed cameras because of the nature of the area. There’s no indication he made any significant effort to get neighborhood feedback, but then claimed he hadn’t gotten any neighborhood feedback.
“When you talk about community disapproval, I haven’t had any feedback. The problem is – is there’s not a real strong neighborhood association out there, so I wasn’t able to get a group together as such. It also borders 7th District, I believe, and we haven’t gotten any negative. We’re hoping as this gets out into the community that it will have a positive effect.”
Fellow council member Jennifer Scutchfield backed Brown up on this trope. Her district butts up to the park and includes nearby neighborhoods. Their condescending characterization of the area speaks volumes about the level of respect they have for certain constituents.
“There’s a lot of rental property. There’s not a lot of homeowner-owned property, and so it’s really hard to get that neighborhood buy-in.”
Maybe it’s just too “diverse” over there.
Oddly enough, they don’t seem to have any problem getting the word out about their campaigns when election time rolls around.
So, are we to take this to mean people who rent or don’t live within the borders of a neighborhood association – i.e. poorer people – don’t give a crap about their neighborhoods, and won’t mind being spied on?
Brown’s true colors came out when Councilmember Angela Evans expressed privacy concerns about the proposed surveillance. She called it a “slippery slope,” and said surveillance could potentially raise constitutional issues.
He literally rolled his eyes as Evens spoke.
Brown ultimately shut down discussion and made a motion to vote on moving the pilot program to the full council despite the fact several other members still wanted to speak or ask questions. He poo-pooed objections to surveillance, including legitimate concerns that it will simply displace crime out of camera-range and questions about its effectiveness at night.
Brown also took a dig at Evans before making the motion, his arrogance on full display.
“I think we need to go forward with this. As Councilmember Evans, which she strongly opposes it, I would just say, you know, at least I’m coming up with some type of ideal (sic) for public safety and to protect the citizens out there, and if you’ve got a better ideal (sic) or any kind of ideal (sic) that you – then you need to bring it forward into committee.”
Yes Fred. At least you came up with an “ideal” to keep an eye on the skate kids, renters and brown people in your “diverse” district. Good job on that.
Brown got his wish. The full council eventually approved the cameras with only Evans, Bill Farmer Jr. and Jennifer Mossotti voting no.