No need for Big Brother at Marolt |

No need for Big Brother at Marolt

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

At first glance, we’re not crazy about the plan to install security cameras at the Marolt Ranch housing complex. A lot more study and public discussion needs to be done on such an intrusive measure before local officials decide to carry it out.

On Tuesday, Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, provided county commissioners with an update of the proposed initiative. During the current ski season, Marolt has experienced incidents of illegal dumping and vandalism, McCabe said, also mentioning safety issues and threatening behavior.

“We have a population that seems to party hearty, and we’ve had some problems there,” he told commissioners.

The complex is owned by the city and managed by the city-county housing authority. It houses seasonal workers in the winter and Aspen Music Festival and School students in the summer. A building on the property with small music studios for the summer students also is rented out in the fall, winter and early part of spring to local musicians working on their craft.

It was suggested during the meeting that seasonal workers and nonresidents who use the Dumpsters are causing most of the problems, and that the summer students are blameless. Housing officials also stated that cameras installed at Truscott Place Phase I last summer have been a success, curtailing illegal dumping and cutting down on transients using the laundry room. Other public housing sites also could be targeted in the near future.

While it’s true that Aspen has occasional problems with homeless people sleeping in public places to get out of the cold, we believe there are more positive ways to combat that issue without installing security cameras in a housing complex that’s only partially full in the winter and doesn’t even see year-round use.

As for the claim of threatening behavior and safety concerns, we have doubts that the people living in Marolt housing face such problems, or cause them, on a consistent basis. To make its case, perhaps the housing authority should detail all incidents over the past two or three years, backed by police reports, and present them in a future Aspen City Council or county commissioners meeting.

The dumping issue might have merit. If security cameras are to be installed at all, maybe the Dumpster sheds would be the place to start, with Marolt’s common areas remaining free of Big Brother’s presence.

Nationally, security cameras have become a popular reaction in recent years to the presence of crime in public housing complexes, usually in cities or large towns where violent crime – shootings, stabbings, sexual assaults and the like – is rampant. Recent police statistics show that Aspen is a safe community where such incidents are extremely rare.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield expressed reservations about the plan, which the Aspen city manager’s office will review later this year.

“This is a civil-rights issue. I just don’t like the idea of cameras in housing,” Hatfield said. “I will absolutely stand on the side of defending civil liberties.”

Hatfield is on the right track. Truth be told, Marolt is a fairly quiet environment, comparable with the quietest spots of the community, save for the occasional crunching guitars and pounding drums emanating from the studio building in the evening hours. The haste to find a solution to a problem that might or might not exist appears to be unwarranted.

We wonder how city, county and housing authority officials would feel about a plan to install security cameras just outside their front doors with the potential to capture their daily movements.

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