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Constitutionality of Jackson’s...

Constitutionality of Jackson’s Blue Light Safety Initiative in question

By: Jeremy Pittari - May 28, 2024

(Photo from Jackson Police Department on Facebook)

  • The Institute for Justice says the new Jackson ordinance forcing some businesses to tie into the city’s police surveillance camera network violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

A public interest law firm is requesting Jackson’s City Council reconsider the implementation of a surveillance camera mandate for certain businesses.

The ordinance, called the “Connect JXN — Blue Light Safety Initiative,” was approved unanimously during the April 23rd council meeting. Council Vice President and Ward II Councilwoman Angelique Lee said she worked on the ordinance to curb crime in the city.

The ordinance mandates that all gas stations and convenience stores in Jackson tie their surveillance systems into the Jackson Police Department’s existing blue light camera network, without a warrant and at the expense of the private businesses.

Lee said that by forcing those businesses “to be added to our blue light network safety system,” the business owners and shoppers would have the knowledge that the location is a safe place. 

The issue at hand, said Ward III Councilman Kenneth Stokes, is the high rates of drug and other criminal activity that occur at those establishments. He also described instances of prostitution, public urination, and homicide.

“How many citizens in this city got to be robbed or killed at these service stations?” Stokes asked during the meeting. 

He added that the new ordinance will also prevent business owners from operating without surveillance or claiming their system is not operational when law enforcement requests video footage after a crime occurs on their property.

The ordinance would allow the police department to connect to at least two, but no more than four cameras facing the parking lot and interior of the businesses, Deputy Chief Vincent Grizzell explained to the Council. He added that the best way for law enforcement officers to be everywhere is through technology. 

For a fee of $950 to each business, that establishment’s security system will be connected via a “box” that patches the feed into the police department. The fee includes the installation of a device outside the store alerting patrons that the area is now part of the city’s blue light network safety system, explained Ward V Councilman Vernon Hartley.

“I got three stores that want these things as of yesterday,” Hartley said during the meeting. 

Police Chief Joseph Wade told the Council during the meeting that the ordinance is needed due to the crime at Jackson’s gas stations, which leads many people to leave the city to purchase fuel.

“We need these tools in our toolbox,” Chief Wade said.

Officers currently have the tools and training to use the system, which gives them immediate access to the network’s cameras through a laptop in their patrol vehicle. Access to that information will help during trials, Grizzell added.

“Most courts now want to see digital evidence; they don’t want to see paper… they don’t want to see eight hours of video,” Grizell told the Council. “They want you to be able to timeline that incident straight to what time it happened, what they look like and where they went.”

The Council asked the city’s legal team to review the ordinance for conflicts that may need to be addressed. 

The new ordinance is proposed to go into effect this month, but not be enforceable until January 2025, said Jared McClain, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a legal organization that challenging the constitutionality of surveillance programs like Jackson’s.

McClain said the ordinance violates two Constitutional amendments. It not only makes the business owner responsible for covering the cost of connecting their surveillance system to the network, it also gives the police department warrantless access to video footage.

“I’m not sure there is way for them to legally force people to tie in. Both because requiring them to purchase all that equipment without paying for it violates the Fifth Amendment and because just having a live feed of everything that goes on at somebody’s business violates the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment,” McClain explained.

There is also the potential for the business owner to have to upgrade their security system if it is not capable of being tied into the police department’s system, creating an additional expense. 

McClain said the Institute for Justice is aware of other cities where similar ordinances were passed. However, he said those were either not enforced or were amended to retain the need for a warrant to access security footage. 

“What makes these laws particularly frustrating is that they are creating and expanding this police state and they’re not even paying for it themselves,” McClain added. “The only reason to skip the warrant requirement is so you can get footage when you don’t have reason to believe a crime is committed.”

The Institute for Justice sent the City Council a letter asking that the ordinance not go into effect due to its unconstitutional nature. In the letter, the Institute for Justice advised the City Council of the potential for lawsuits due to the ordinance violating the two Constitutional amendments.

A call to the city attorney’s office for further comment was not returned by press time.

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics. Email Jeremy: