Gas stations in DeKalb County, Georgia, have been ordered to spend thousands of their own dollars to install video surveillance cameras to meet new county requirements. If they fail to comply, DeKalb County will revoke their business licenses starting on January 1. Nearly all gas stations in DeKalb County already have some form of security camera system, but county leaders don’t seem to care. It seems DeKalb County’s answer to solving crimes is drafting private businesses into the government’s surveillance system by demanding they install security cameras and present footage to police without a warrant, regardless of whether business owners want to cooperate.
DeKalb County commissioners approved an ordinance in December 2022 requiring gas stations and some other businesses to meet an extensive list of requirements for their video surveillance systems. As 11 Alive News reported, a gas station must now have video cameras at every gas pump, the convenience store’s point of entry and exit, and at the point of sale. Additionally, businesses must have lighting on 75 feet of the building, and the cameras must have night vision, meet specific video resolution requirements, and be able to store 60 days’ worth of footage.
If businesses fail to meet these requirements by January 1, 2024, the county will revoke their business license, forcing the business to shut down, according to 11 Alive News. Business owners also face possible fines and even jailtime for noncompliance. DeKalb County has hired six code enforcement officers to enforce the new rules. As of early October, county inspectors visited roughly half of the 268 locations in question. One county leader said only about 20% of those businesses had made the required upgrades.
“The government can’t get around the warrant requirement by forcing private businesses to conduct surveillance on the police’s behalf. What we’re seeing in DeKalb County goes beyond being creepy or dystopian – government officials are threatening people’s livelihood unless they comply. It’s unconstitutional,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain.
Telling businesses to comply or be shut down is extreme and unreasonable. These businesses are oftentimes the victims of crime – they aren’t part of the problem and shouldn’t be treated as such. Moreover, 90% of the gas stations in question have already installed security cameras that they feel meet their needs. Demanding they spend thousands, if not tens of thousands, to install entirely new camera systems against their own will simply to comply with new rules is absurd.
DeKalb County’s actions aren’t unique, unfortunately. IJ has confronted egregious oversteps of power by local governments before. Last year, IJ wrote a letter to Houston officials calling on local leaders to repeal an Orwellian ordinance that required various businesses to install surveillance cameras at their own costs and turn footage over to police without a warrant. The year before that IJ sued a Texas city after it refused to let a mechanic, Azael Sepulveda, open his new auto shop unless he spent at least $40,000 to add 23 parking spaces to his property. The requirement was needless because Sepulveda is a one-man operation who took cars on an appointment-only basis.
It’s the county’s job to protect residents. County leaders have plenty of other tools to use to deter or solve crime. Forcing businesses to bend to Draconian demands or risk losing their livelihoods shouldn’t be one of those tools. Moreover, most Americans understand they’re being recorded when they step into a store. However, customers probably wouldn’t know nor appreciate footage of themselves getting handed over to police whenever law enforcement demands.
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