Police accused of lying about hidden cameras in black community

By Lucas Seiler

Neighbors in the River Park community of Naples -- where most of the city's black population lives -- are claiming the city's police have been spying on them without their knowledge.

Cameras hidden inside high-voltage boxes have become the source of angst since their discovery, and residents along 13th Street want them taken down immediately -- in part because they claim the city lied to them about what they are.

"We don't need that around here," said Robert Robinson.

Jackie Dean said technicians working on a pole in front of her home in 2007 told her the boxes would boost cell phone reception.

"I said, 'Are you serious?' He said, 'Yes.' So I said, 'That's not a camera?' Because it the back of my mind I knew -- that's a camera," Dean said. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable, like they are invading our privacy over here."

Penny Taylor was one of the city council members who voted to use federal grant money to pay for surveillance cameras to curb drug-related crime. But eight years later, she says crime has gone down and the cameras should no longer be up.

"There was a lot of illegal activity going on there," Taylor said. "The intention was always for public safety -- always. Never intended to spy on one neighborhood over the other."

Naples police agreed that crime in the neighborhood has dropped, but said no specific statistics were available for comparison.

The city said neighbors were involved in the conversation to install cameras, but the neighborhood watch group claimed it was never informed and there was no public input at council meetings.

"They're trying to take this neighborhood," Robinson said. "They're trying to get rid of all the people."