Surveillance cams: Augusta’s anti-crime hope or slippery slope?

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Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 8:36 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Some people are voicing their concerns over cameras the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is putting around Augusta.

The cameras are something law enforcement says are helping fight crime.

And authorities have the numbers to back it up.

The devices are called Flock cameras.

They are not easily seen, but law enforcement agencies can use them to find evidence of crimes caught on video.

And more of the cameras are planned within the next two months.

With 41 arrests attributed to them already, the hope is to triple those numbers with more than 160 cameras soon around Augusta.

“Invaluable. Right now, they’re invaluable to us,” Sheriff Richard Roundtree said of the cameras.


Aggravated assaults11
Armed robbery22
Sexual assault11
Burglary11 (serial burglar)
Recovered stolen vehicles3828
Traffic hit and runs22
Traffic charges1
Stolen tag recoveries30

But one taxpayer at the Augusta Commission meeting raised doubts about the cameras.

He says getting more of them could be a slippery slope to sacrificing more freedom down the road.

“They are bringing in something that 15, 20, 30 years ago, was the stuff of movies,” Dan Funsch said.

Patrick Clayton, chief deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, had this to say: “The vision we have for the future is, if you’ve ever watched ‘Enemy of the State’ with Will Smith, we already have the technology for that type of thing; it’s just not affordable yet.”

Funsch has been regularly attending city meetings since this past summer.

He spoke out Tuesday about the recent approval of more than $300,000 for extra cameras that use artificial intelligence technology to track down license plates to the scene of a crime. He wonders what it means for future accountability.

“It’s in the hands of the government, and as I said, I don’t mistrust our government and I hope I never do, but it’s concerning that that power is being deployed in our midst,” he said.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office says the cameras’ power has limits, starting with a 30-day limitation to be able to access the footage.

It’s not a blank check to monitor the past, but the concern is that these cameras use artificial intelligence to monitor license plates for now, what else can they decide to monitor one day down the road?

“The number of cameras we do have will be able to give us a kind of good, little shield over the city,” Clayton said. “A lot of these cameras are purchased by private entities like neighborhoods, like Summerville, here in Augusta.”

And with more cameras on the way -- the hope is that the benefits outweigh the concerns.

“We may be getting into more than we are bargaining for,” Funsch said.