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County aims to put cameras on walking trail

Those who spray graffiti, litter, deal drugs or engage in other illicit activities at an area walking trail should get ready to smile for the camera.

Clark County leaders want to install 23 flash cameras and eight fake or "dummy" cameras along the Flamingo Arroyo trail, which has been plagued with vandalism and crime in some spots.

Commissioners gave staff the go-ahead Tuesday to request a $140,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management to buy the cameras.

"It’s additional protection for people using the trail," said Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district encompasses much of the trail.

The cameras flash as they snap shots of people in the vicinity. Some can be programmed to blurt remarks like a mechanical parrot.

"Look at the birdie!" "What are you doing?"

They would be placed where the trail crosses roads because wrongdoers are most likely to wreak havoc there, said Ron Gregory, the county’s planning manager.

The trail loops from the Wetlands Park in the southeast valley to Sahara Avenue, then to Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway. Stretches are under construction.

The BLM recently approved a $14 million grant from its land sale program to pay for some trail work, Gregory said. The money for the cameras must be paid for with a separate BLM grant.

Although $140,000 is a relatively small grant, it’s far from certain because BLM land sales are at a near standstill, Gregory said.

The city of Las Vegas has put flash cameras at trouble spots to deter crime for a couple of years, Gregory said. The county borrowed two of the city’s cameras set up in places that were tagged regularly.

At one site, the tagging stopped entirely for the first week, then resumed sporadically for the next two weeks, he said. At the other site, the taggers moved away from the cameras.

"From our perspective, using the cameras in a test run worked well," Gregory said.

But a civil rights advocate argued that cameras are questionable as crime-stoppers but are sure to erode privacy.

"The proliferation of cameras everywhere is certainly a cause for concern because it changes the nature of public spaces and how we experience them," said Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. "People should be mindful of the price being paid."

Peck questioned what the county will do with the images.

The immediate plan is to keep photos of unlawful acts and toss out the rest, Gregory said. The public could formally request to see the photos.

Giunchigliani said discouraging vandals is important because artists will decorate trail heads with sculptures that could be defaced.

The city has used the cameras to shoo away taggers whose graffiti cost $1,500 to clean up, she said. "The cameras pay for themselves in a three- four-month period."

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