Neighborhood residents complain of video harrasment

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(Host) Residents of a low income Brattleboro neighborhood say they’re being harassed by a neighbor with a video camera.

The man has been videotaping their activities and passing on the tapes to police.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Clark Street residents say the man with a video camera, Paul Canon, initially told them Brattleboro police were paying him to document criminal activities.

He later said the police hadn’t paid him or hired him. Canon was out of town this week.

But Brattleboro Police Chief John Martin says his department has accepted Canon’s tapes and viewed them.

(Martin) “Our relationship with him is the same as any complainant. I mean his argument is this: He is a citizen. He is frustrated because the police department can’t be there all the time. He observes what he believes is criminal activity taking place and he is attempting to capture that on video and present it to the police department so that charges can be brought against the people who are committing crimes.”

(Keese) Martin says the videotaping may be irritating. But he isn’t breaking any law as long as his subjects are visible from his property or a public space.

But residents see it differently. Peggy Longueil says her house is one of several that have been singled out. She’s a foster parent who’s also raising two grandchildren.

(Longueil) “And I have teenagers coming in and out you know. And they used to sit on the porch and they drink soda and all that. Well, he thinks we have a lot of drug activity here. And this is not true. If anybody knows me at all they know that my sole purpose is to help these teens, not make them cause trouble.”

(Keese) Longueil is the president of the Clark/Canal street neighborhood Association. The group has complained to the town select board. They say the unwanted surveillance has everyone on edge.

Neighbors also claim the taping singles out blacks and Latinos for special attention.

Residents of this mixed neighborhood have in the past accused Brattleboro police of racial profiling.

Chief Martin categorically denies that. But Longueil, who also runs a neighborhood summer youth lunch program, says the teens have too few positive contacts with police.

She misses the bygone era of foot patrols and community policing.

(Longueil) “They used to come through this neighborhood and they’d stop and the kids would all go around them. And it was a great thing, a lot of communication, but no more.”

(Keese) The situation could be the first big challenge for Brattleboro’s new Citizen Police Communication Committee.

The committee will meet tonight with the town Selectboard, the neighborhood association and members of the police department.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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