Cameras in public restrooms create splash

August 28, 2013

LUDINGTON — There has been much splashing around social media the last day about cameras in public restrooms in Ludington. The topic was raised by Ludington resident Tom Rotta, who spoke about his concerns about the cameras during the public comment portion of Monday’s Ludington City Council meeting.

During that meeting Rotta presented photographs of cameras in the James Street Plaza and Waterfront Park restrooms. The cameras have been in the restrooms for many years. When they were installed in the 1990s, they caused some public stir. However, signs clearly let those in need of “rest” that the bathrooms are being monitored. City Manager John Shay said not all the cameras in the bathrooms are real. He said their purpose is to prevent crimes.

The cameras point towards the “common” area of the restrooms, not the privies themselves. Rotta also presented photographs that he took supposedly from the same angle of the bathroom cameras. The flaw in his demonstration, though, is that not all camera lenses are created equal. Without knowing the focal length and exact angle of the video cameras, his demonstration was really not accurate. Instead, it appeared to be an attempt to exaggerate his point.

Shay said it is likely that someone may enter the restroom and change clothing in the common area. However, footage is only reviewed when there is an issue with the restrooms, like an incident of vandalism. And then they are only reviewed by police officers, typically Chief Mark Barnett. Since 2001, Barnett has only had to review the footage two times, Shay said.

Rotta also alleged that cameras were in the newly renovated restrooms on the north side of Stearns Park. He took pictures of what appeared to be smoke detectors and claimed the detectors had cameras in them. Shay said they aren’t smoke detectors but rather are humidity detectors and they do not have cameras in them. When the sensors detect humidity, the fans automatically turn on. The sensors have lenses on them, which make them look like cameras. The detectors are in the areas of the toilets and the showers. In fact, there are no cameras in the Stearns Park bathrooms. Shay said the receipts that Rotta has been discussing are from 2000.

The topic of whether cameras should be located in public restrooms is a balance of public safety versus privacy.

Rotta said that people should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in common areas of a public restroom. City Attorney Richard Wilson corrected Rotta by saying the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court have made three decisions that state just the opposite of Rotta’s claims.

The law allows for cameras in common areas of the restrooms but not the stalls.

Mayor John Henderson also asked Rotta if he had been taping fliers up in the bathrooms. Rotta said he had. The mayor then asked Rotta to not do that because it is illegal to do that without permission from the city.

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