LAFAYETTE, La. — In their first meeting of 2021, the Lafayette City Council heard an update on a contract signed by Mayor-President Josh Guillory with a local company to install cameras to watch citizens and record their activities.
The contract was signed in November without the consent of the council between the Lafayette Consolidated Government and a private company called Crime Fighters of Louisiana.
The contract would allow the company to install surveillance cameras across the city giving free access to law enforcement, particularly the Lafayette Police.
City Councilman Pat Lewis says he and other members were kept in the dark about the contract, and they had several questions for the mayor-president about public safety and privacy.
At Tuesday's meeting, councilwoman Nanette Cook said she would like "better protection for our citizens so we know where that data is."
"When I hear the term, 'supposed to be used,' that kind of leaves it open. It concerns me," added councilman Glenn Lazard.
The big concern from council members is changing wording in the contract to make it more clear that law enforcement will be the only ones allowed to review the video, and any additional use must be limited. Guillory says his intent is only for law enforcement to utilize the cameras.
Cameras would be placed in locations to be determined by the police department, and research is currently being done as to where the cameras should be.
Mayor-President Guillory calls the cameras an added tool for law enforcement, but it's not the first time cameras helping police have caused controversy in Lafayette.
In a 2018 interview with KATC, Guillory called traffic cameras "unconstitutional," saying "I do not believe in traffic cameras."
We asked to sit down with the mayor-president to ask him what's different in this case, but he declined and instead addressed the question during Tuesday's meeting.
"This is not the red light cameras. This is another tool, because we do not have enough officers to be on every corner to fight crime," Guillory said.
KATC has learned that these cameras are operating in other cities in Acadiana, including Duson where the chief of police says they've been an invaluable asset for law enforcement.
The owner of Crime Fighters, Hewitt Brooks Bernard, was sent a cease and desist letter from the State Fire Marshal's Office for failing to get a license required by state law.
The contract is no-cost, but the city will be required to power the cameras and pay transmission fees - costs the Guillory administration says are already in the budget.
As for the mayor-president signing the contract without the council's approval last November, LCG attorneys say Guillory was within his right to do so. Section 309 of the city charter permits the mayor to sign a contract for a project inside the budget without the council's approval.
Cameras will not go up in the city until the contract is amended and finalized by the city council.
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