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Source: State grant funded north country cameras

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CANTON — The traffic cameras that quietly appeared on north country roads this spring — raising questions among residents about which government agency placed them there and for what purpose — are “for border-related crimes,” the Franklin County district attorney said Friday.

The purpose of the cameras, which read license plates, is to link downstate drug seizures back to Northern New York, District Attorney Derek P. Champagne said. About a dozen were installed throughout St. Lawrence, Clinton and Franklin Counties in March.

“This could eliminate more checkpoints in the future,” he said. “Local traffic is not the focus of this project.”

Local law enforcement does have access to the information supplied by the cameras, however.

Any law enforcement agency can log in into the system for investigative uses, not just border-related crime, Mr. Champagne said. He said that the cameras can be an effective crime-fighting tool and that he has used them to solve two burglaries. The cameras are used in New York, Rochester, Chicago and other big cities, he said.

One St. Lawrence County legislator said the cameras don’t bother him as long as they’re used to stop smuggling.

“If the purpose is to stop drug trafficking, then they’re OK with me,” said Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena. He said he just wishes the authorities “would have been more forthcoming about their intentions.”

Who installed them remains unclear.

Mr. Champagne, who acted as a liaison to get the cameras, said funding originated from federal money related to homeland security. He said he did not have permission to release details.

Spokesmen for U.S. Rep. William L. Owens and Sen. Charles E. Schumer were unable to identify the source of the money.

“We are continuing to look into the situation and have made inquiries with federal authorities,” said Matt House, spokesman for Mr. Schumer.

A spokeswoman for state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said her office has received complaints about the cameras and is investigating the matter with law enforcement.

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