Traffic signal preemption system moves to Superior finance

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SUPERIOR — The public safety committee on Thursday, May 19, endorsed a city preemption system and moved the proposal forward to the finance committee for review. A request for a trial run of automated license plate reader cameras was held until June pending additional information.

The preemption system would allow all emergency vehicles in Superior to disrupt the city’s 21 traffic signals to clear intersections when responding to an emergency. The cost to install the system was estimated at around $200,000.

City Councilor Tylor Elm said the system makes sense; Councilor Nick Ledin said it’s something the city is behind on. The question for the council, said public works director Todd Janigo, is how big of a priority the system is.

If it was inserted into the Capital Improvement Project system and worked its way through the budgeting process, the earliest it could be installed is 2023. The project does not fall under the infrastructure bill, Janigo said, so those funds would not be available. It could, however, be funded with $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars the city has not yet allocated.

Superior Fire Chief Scott Gordon said he approached Mayor Jim Paine about possibly using that money for a preemption system.

“He had kind of challenged us as department heads to come up with new and creative ways to spend that money that follows the guideline. I was in his office the next morning,” Gordon said.

The mayor said it needed to be vetted through the public safety committee, which is why the topic has been on the agenda since February.

The Superior Police Department is requesting a trial run of cameras that would take a series of still pictures, targeting license plates and vehicles that match descriptions of stolen vehicles or ones involved in crimes. A sample policy that would apply to the automated license plate readers was presented to the committee by Capt. Paul Winterscheidt with the Superior Police Department.

Duluth has between 150 and 180 cameras operating on its public thoroughfares, according to Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander, including two mobile units in squad cars. He said they have had automated license plate readers for at least five years. There are 51 cities in Wisconsin that utilize such cameras, according to the Wisconsin ALPR Association member list.

“With these cameras here, they’re tracking, basically observing information in a public area that people don’t have an expectation of privacy,” Winterscheidt said, so a warrant would not be necessary.

He likened them to security cameras that businesses use to monitor the exterior of their buildings. They only take pictures, not audio, and focus on vehicles.

Linda Cadotte, director of parks, recreation and forestry, proposed including roads that access parks on the list of areas to be monitored with the cameras.

“I feel like every single time something happens, social media blows up, ‘Why doesn’t the city have cameras?’” Cadotte said.

If officials have decided not to move forward with a camera system, she said, those questions need to be answered.

“I feel like more people in the community have been hounding, especially on social media, ‘get those cameras,’” Cadotte said.

Ledin said he had a long list of questions, both about the privacy issues involved and the recurring annual cost to lease the cameras. Alexander asked the councilors to provide a list of questions so the department could have answers ready for the next meeting.

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