Berrien County Commissioners discuss traffic cameras

Published 2:09 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County residents shouldn’t fear having cameras placed around the area monitoring traffic, Berrien County Sheriff Chuck Heit said Thursday. His comments came after New Buffalo resident Ray Kirkus expressed concern about the cameras at Thursday’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting.

     The cameras in question are coming from the FLOCK Group, Inc. company. The county had a pilot program in place with FLOCK and the county board has now authorized a five year agreement with them with the costs coming from the county’s public safety millage funds.

     The pilot program as well as this new agreement calls for the placement of 20 cameras on highways in the county. The language of the resolution states that the sheriff has “found the use of these cameras to be extremely helpful in solving crimes and protecting the public”.

     Kirkus raised concerns about the cameras during public comments. “I’ve been told the cameras are a positive but I should note that they do capture every license plate and that information goes into a database,” he said.

“I’m asking what provision there is to protect the information collected and what the information can be used for,” he added. “We all know the government has used information in the past to target liberals and conservatives. I’m uneasy to have license plates captured every time. To me it’s a privacy issue.”

Heit responded to Kirkus’ concerns. “We’re not tracking vehicles asin keeping data,” he said. “If there is a stolen vehicle, it will report that. It’s probably one of the best tools I’ve ever seen in my career. It’s been used to solve crimes. We had a case with stolen firearms and FLOCK was instrumental, we had a missing autistic child, we had several stolen vehicles.”

“The only people who need to worry about it are those who are driving a stolen car,” he added.

Kirkus also spoke out against illegal immigration into the country. He asked whether the county tracks the number of undocumented people in the county, the crimes they’ve committed and any public assistance they receive. He said he was opposed to the trend of allowing undocumented people vote in any election.

In other business Thursday, commissioners heard a report from Berrien County Health Officer Guy Miller on the health department’s recent strategic planning efforts, approved a number of traffic orders and previewed action next week on spending $1 million of the county’s opioid settlement funds as well as other matters.

Miller said his department has completed a new strategic plan for 2024-26. He said department staff completed not only an overall strategic plan for the department but also individual ones for the environmental health, community and clinical health and family program services.

Officials and staff concluded that they have to rebuild community trust after Covid. They also set goals of recruiting and retaining staff, using technology more efficiently, doing more community outreach and addressing problems such as transportation needs.

One matter that might proved to be controversial next week is an effort to have the county board approve a resolution in opposition to the new state laws regarding renewable energy. The Michigan Association of Counties is urging all counties in the state to go on the record opposing the legislation which would take away local control of many wind and solar projects.

County Commission Chokwe Pitchford said he opposed the legislation which passed last fall but doesn’t think local and county governments should endorse a ballot proposal against the legislation-which he said the proposed resolution does. “I think supporting a ballot proposal is out of the purview of county government and will be setting a precedent,” he said.