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Small town proposes citywide surveillance cameras

Associated Press

BUHL, Minn. — Local law enforcement officials are pushing a plan to place six surveillance cameras around this Iron Range town of fewer than a thousand people.

Sgt. Pat McKenzie of the St. Louis County Sheriff’s office, which has overseen law enforcement in Buhl since the city disbanded its police department in 1999, said it’d be a tool for solving and deterring crime. But some residents are asking: What crime?

"If we had the crime I could understand," said Mark Frahm, co-owner of Billy’s Bar in town.

But McKenzie said it’s an affordable way to offer more law enforcement coverage.

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"We don’t have enough presence, and the city is not able to afford enough police presence in town," McKenzie said. "This is a supplement. It’s an effective, efficient way to supplement the law enforcement that they can afford."

McKenzie proposed placing cameras near the city limits at the three main highways into town, as well as one each near the city park, the city beach and at an industrial park outside town. He said having only three ways to get into town would make the cameras particularly effective in keeping out potential criminals.

"It’s also our hope to deter people from coming to town if it’s well known that coming and going from town you are going to get caught on video surveillance," he said.

The city council has hired a consultant to look at the total cost of the proposal, and Mayor Craig Puhlford cautioned that discussions are still "in the infant stages."

But beyond the question of whether such heavy surveillance is needed in a small town, some residents are also worried about the potential invasion of privacy.

"How intrusive do you want your government to be? That’s what this is all about," said Shari Swanson, a member of the city council opposed to the plan. "Why should we be under surveillance? We’re the citizens of the community. It’s creepy, and we’re going down a bad road."

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