Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen City Hall brings a camera to a gunfight
The only thing more surprising than reading in Monday’s Daily News that Aspen City Hall has been capturing surveillance footage at its main entrance since August is that A. a security camera was only first installed in August, and B. there’s just one camera.
Of course Aspen isn’t a rough and tough city that requires the National Guard on speed dial; the biggest crimes committed by locals seem to be largely self-directed or against nature. Then again, plenty of other municipal and office buildings, houses of worship, schools and other public spaces likewise once delighted in the luxurious feeling of imperviousness in their unarmed, offline surroundings, until they didn’t any more because they couldn’t.
Guns are easy enough to blame for the addition of video to the city’s arsenal. Aspen Councilman Skippy Mesirow described his anxiety at a Sept. 23 council meeting when the co-owner of Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, Lauren Boebert, openly carried a gun while speaking out against Aspen’s proposed ordinance (that has since passed) to prohibit weapons in city facilities.
“When you walked in the door, I immediately noticed the firearm on your leg. All of my attention went there. I felt a wash of fear (sic) come over me. … My thoughts immediately go to ‘Where do I hide?’ ‘Where do I run?’” Mesirow told Boebert, plus everyone else at the meeting, of his “complete shift in energy and focus.”
It was a made-for-Aspen reaction, even if Aspen is still part of Colorado (which, at last check, is part of the United States, notwithstanding its separation by a wall #FreeColorado). Elected officials serving small but impactful Western towns have as much responsibility to their communities and the neighboring ones as their bigger city counterparts to try to never be surprised by firearms, whether in conversation or real life.
Plenty of other Aspenites would readily admit, too, to a discomfort similar to the one Mesirow described upon spotting someone not in uniform openly carrying a gun. (However, unlike him, others in his situation would — and did — have the presence to summon more equanimity, especially since the topic of open carry weapons was on the meeting agenda of the council to which they were elected; and the woman packing heat sat three rows in front of an armed and uniformed police officer, where an armed and uniformed police officer always sits during City Council meetings.)
A month from tomorrow marks seven years since the massacre of 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which means it has been less than seven years since Aspen’s Yellow Brick building started so much as locking its doors during business hours. Home to day care and preschool programs, fingerprint technology is now used for Yellow Brick access, a measure that was met with a fair amount of resistance when it was initially proposed.
“We were all disappointed that we had come to that place,” former Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron told The Aspen Times in 2018 of the decision to fortify the Yellow Brick after Sandy Hook, though also acknowledging the reality of changing times.
And that’s just it. It used to be that hungry bears were reason enough to keep doors locked. Everyone wants small children moving freely and innocently between the classroom and playground without needing technology and guards to stay alive. No one wants to worry about recorded privacy invasions and guns on every corner and in City Council (or any) meetings.
Except the fact is that cameras are already everywhere (except, inexplicably, Aspen City Hall) and have proven radically useful in corralling evidence of illegal gun use and other bad behavior — while also often deterring both, as Alissa Farrell, Aspen’s director of human resources and the interim assistant city manager, said in the Daily News.
A Glenwood Springs private security firm is making recommendations about additional cameras, including for the new, under-construction City Hall — a hyper-logical move for an organization that loudly announced itself both gun- and metal-detector free. Hardly anyone in Aspen needs (more) coddling, although what nanny cams can offer in defense and protection outweighs the problems they can trigger (including how the information is used and stored, and who and what are caught on tape).
Open, unlocked and unmonitored spaces have long been a beloved way of Aspen life. On the other hand, proactively shoring up those same areas without materially changing anything else can go a long way toward extending the life being loved. Let cameras be the biggest precaution that Aspen requires, until which time it inevitably becomes clear the hard way that more must be done.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.