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I-19 cameras pop up along with questions about them

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

I-19 cameras pop up along with questions about them

CREATED Mar 13, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
 
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - New high-tech equipment pops up along a Southern Arizona highway and, along with it, questions about what it does, who it belongs to and if it’s safe.
 
9 On Your Side reported in January on plans to place traffic cameras on I-19 near the Tubac area Border Patrol checkpoint. At the time, we went digging but couldn't find a state or federal agency that would take ownership or answer questions. Now, the cameras are up and presumably running. Viewers are again raising questions about what they do, who owns them and also where to direct complaints.
 
Janet Bercik was heading down the stretch of I-19 at night when, “all of a sudden, there’s these bright lights that suddenly--they blind you, literally,” the Rio Rico resident said. “It's a very great shock to the system."
 
Daylight reveals an elaborate array of lights, cameras and other equipment, recently installed along southbound lanes near the checkpoint, which only northbound traffic passes through.
 
Border Patrol told us the technology belongs to the Drug Enforcement Administration. A spokeswoman for that federal agency wrote us: "...DEA doesn't discuss our investigative techniques or methods; doing so could potentially compromise ongoing investigations and threaten the safety of our agents and the public. Disclosing our techniques can also give drug traffickers an upper hand and increase the ability for criminals to adapt to law enforcement tactics and methods."
 
The equipment itself offers clues about what it does. Visible from the side of the highway, one of the pieces of equipment reads “RLPR,” which probably stands for "rear license plate reader." Other devices with lenses are labeled "front POV" (for “point of view") and "driver POV."
 
Bercik would like to know more, like why the cameras are watching traffic on the way toward Mexico. “I think we have a right to know what the purpose is,” she said. “I don't care about all the little machinations that go along. (It's not) any different than the Border Patrol. They have a job to do. But I think we should at least know why that's there and what its purpose is.”
 
And the lights at night? “That, to me, is a very dangerous kind of thing with a bright light suddenly coming at you and hitting you in the face,” Bercik said. “I would have liked to have seen a warning sign.”
 
DEA said its equipment meets all ADOT and federal highway standards.
 
9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked Berchik, “If you knew of what government agency--what department to direct your complaint to, would you make that complaint?” “Oh, yes I would,” she answered. “I would make the complaint. I would write a formal letter and let them know because we have a right to know.”
 
An ADOT spokesman wrote us: "All questions on this law enforcement tool need to be directed to the DEA."
 
We asked the DEA where drivers like Berchik should direct their complaints. A spokeswoman said she would pass on the complaint. Berchik, however, would like to file one herself so 9 On Your Side will continue looking for a way for her to do that.
 
Other questions left unanswered include what information the cameras collect and how it’s used, as well as how many tax dollars the project cost.