City Orders Businesses to Join Its Police Surveillance System

Saginaw demands that establishments install video cameras and turn over footage.


robbery on surveillance video
Kirill Denisov /

City leaders in Saginaw, Michigan, are drafting local shops into the crime-fighting business. The city has ordered local businesses to install video cameras and to turn over footage to the police on demand.

Saginaw City Council voted unanimously yesterday to pass an ordinance requiring certain types of businesses (with "characteristics which may tend to increase the risk of criminal activity on their premises") to install a minimum of three surveillance recording cameras. These must be in operation whenever the business is open, and one camera must be positioned to record the face of each person entering or leaving.

Not all businesses are covered by the new rules, but if you spend time in Saginaw, you're likely to walk into one of these places. Besides some obvious choices—banks, gun shops, check-cashing businesses—the ordinance covers all hotels, gas stations, pharmacies, cell phone dealers, and places that sell liquor (or allow liquor to be consumed on the premises, like a banquet hall).

All these businesses will have a year to install their surveillance systems, subject to approval and inspection by the Saginaw Police Department. Then, if "a crime occurs" involving the business (the ordinance is written very vaguely), the establishment will provide the recording of the incident to the police. If the business resists, police will attempt to get a search warrant. Businesses are required to retain all recordings for at least 30 days; if the police contact them about a crime, they have to retain their recordings of the incident for at least 60 days.

Businesses will be subject to inspections of their surveillance systems whenever the chief of police damn well pleases. The new law states the chief or a designee can inspect the system at any "reasonable" time to make sure it's in compliance with the city ordinance, which also seems like a nice way of getting around any demand by a business that police get a warrant to review footage. Police could also use such a demand to access surveillance for purposes other than investigating a crime.

You would think that the city of Saginaw, population around 50,000, must be in the midst of a massive crime wave. The opposite is true. While Saginaw's violent crimes historically are far above average, overall crime in the city has dropped significantly over the past decade. As in many other American cities, Saginaw's crime is on the decline and has been for a while.

But that's not enough for city leaders who want to force businesses to install (and pay for) equipment that lets the police snoop on folks. A recent beating and robbery of a 65-year-old woman captured on surveillance footage in Saginaw is being used to make the case that video recording devices should be mandatory.

Saginaw Police Chief Bob Ruth claims businesses can get compliant surveillance systems for $300–$350.

This quote from Ruth, in Michigan Live, has a confounding use of "we," which seems to indicate that Ruth doesn't even recognize that private businesses are not there to do the city's bidding:

"I think the extra work that we're doing is far outweighed by the quality of work we're going to get in the end, on the way we'll be able to solve cases. It's really going to help us." [emphasis added]

Those who attempt to defy the city's ordinance will face fines for each day they are out of compliance. And eventually they could lose their business licenses.

It's not unusual for a city or a police department to attempt to force a business to shell out for surveillance equipment and other costly security demands when violent crime or drug dealing frequently takes place on or near the premises. Officials use "nuisance abatement" procedures and zoning rules to essentially force them to help the police or get shut down.

It's less common for a city to make these demands in advance and absent any evidence that a particular business is a crime incubator. Ruth says he's gotten good feedback from business owners for the ordinance. If businesses are all on board, what did they actually need the ordinance for? Wouldn't the businesses already have them?

Read the ordinance for yourself here. It starts 31 pages into the agenda for last night's Saginaw City Council meeting.

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  1. Your businesses R. belong to us!

  2. Saginaw City Council voted unanimously

    It’s always nice to see more bipartisan efforts in government.

    1. It’s always nice to see more bipartisan efforts in government.

      What makes you think Saginaw has a bipartisan city council? The city council elections may be nonpartisan, but I can assure you only one ideology is represented.

      1. Dallas, TX is much the same these days.

        1. I know that’s right.

  3. Michigan is a rather silly place…

    1. What’s really sad is that Saginaw is a poster child of the rust belt. Once a burgeoning city with over 100,000 residents and plenty of auto plants, 13 GM plants and a Fisher body plant IIRC. Now the city population continues to decline as all but one of the GM plants have left town, the Fisher body plant is long gone, and the residents have moved to the surrounding townships, counties, and areas not within the city limits. You would think that a city in decline would try to adopt policies to invigorate business and attract new ones, not add more costs to existing ones.

      1. You would think that would the result, but somehow they always find a way to double down on what got them into their messes in the first place.

        Central planners usually can’t admit that they make mistakes, unfortunately, and Great Britain shows them that a populace can be made to live with ubiquitous surveillance. We’re really not far behind, but fortunately the U.S. is large enough that it will never become fully realized. G.B. only makes it work because they’re a tiny little island the size of a smallish U.S. State.

      2. They think they’re doing these businesses a favor by requiring video surveillance & recording, in return for their police reviewing the recordings following incidents. They think this is a stimulatory, pro-biz move.

  4. You didn’t build that.

    1. But, you SHALL INTSALL THAT.

      1. The libertarian moment is that they didn’t require licensed installers approved by the city (aka the mayors brother in law).

  5. Seems unconstitutional to force people to act as agents of law enforcement.

    1. Businesses are already forced to collect sales tax. Why not collect video as well?

      1. Businesses are already forced to collect remit sales tax.


        It’s completely off-topic regarding the main story here, and not intended as a rebuttal of your comment. But I’ve always thought it would change the average consumer’s perception of the subject if they had the right story. For example, Amazon is not required to collect sales tax on all the junk I buy, but they are required to make payments to each state government, and probably a whole bunch of other lower governments with their hands out. It’s a sales tax, not a purchases tax. The retailer’s not the bad guy.

        1. Amazon agreed to collect sales tax because they get to hold millions of dollars of customer’s money in the bank until they need to remit that to the states.

          That is why some businesses like to do it.

          1. But they coould hold that $ regardless, & keep it if it weren’t taxed.

  6. Oh come now, Shackford. If these cameras lead to just one illegal immigrant being deported, it will all be worth it!

    1. Actually, if they lead to one illegal border crosser being deported, it will be a miracle.

  7. This quote from Ruth, in Michigan Live, has a confounding use of “we,” which seems to indicate that Ruth doesn’t even recognize that private businesses are not there to do the city’s bidding

    Right. They’re there to provide revenue through taxes and fees and provide jerbs for the local peasants to give them something to do. That’s it.

  8. Speaking of unholy alliances, did anyone else catch the scary talk on Fox News after the Florida shooting? The talking heads were throwing ideas out to combat mass shootings. One idea was that social media and the federal government should team up to find potential mass shooters before they commit their crimes. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? And I remind you that this was Fox News, not MSNBC.

    1. And I remind you that this was Fox News, not MSNBC.

      What’s the difference?

      1. White male totalitarians vs non white male totalitarians

  9. This is a trial balloon.
    The next step is to require ALL business (in the name of fairness) to have video recording, and also to hire two or more armed security agents. This will reduce unemployment as well as crime.

  10. Nothing new here. The Mob has been running this kind of “Protection racket” for years. Looks like cities are learning how to do that too!

  11. Do I win something for having my hometown featured on Reason twice?

    Saginaw’s crime is on the decline and has been for a while.

    Violent crime is mostly gang related, but has been trending down since a State Police anti-gang task force was created. The state State Police helicopter flying over the city 3-5 nights a week also helps.

    A lot of crime has migrated moved out of the city and into neighboring Saginaw Township. Mainly because most businesses have moved out of the city. In the past couple of months I think there have been two banks, a pair cash shops (?), and three gas stations which were robbed. All of these businesses were in Saginaw Township where this stupid rule won’t even come into play.

    1. You’re saying you are the one committing all of the crime, aren’t you?

  12. I’d be OK with this, on one condition: before a single camera is installed in a private business, mandatory surveillance cameras must be installed in the offices and homes of every Saginaw government and police official, with live feeds that any citizen can watch and download, at their leisure. If a citizen feels a crime has been committed, they can ask the police (nicely) to arrest themselves and give them 30 days to do it, before a “people’s warrant” is issued. This will be paid for using the personal funds of each individual apparatchik or cop. We all know that’s where the real crimes are occurring!

    1. Body camera for elected officials. I like it.

  13. Michigan. Because California just isn’t progressive enough for some people.

    1. Michigan. Because the utter failure of Democrat policies in Detroit is not a lesson that socialists want Americans to learn.

  14. Lets see, what’s the most cheapass camera I can buy, something even the fictional wizards on CSI wouldn’t be able to miraculously enhance? And make sure it’s one of those old-skool ones that recorded on VHS. You’ll just have to pick up used tag-sale tapes to use in the recorder, because you won’t be able to buy new blanks.

  15. these morons apparently have never heard of the fourth amendment. I hope they are sued into poverty.

  16. Don’t most businesses already have cameras for their own protection and can’t cops already get warrants for the video which most owners probably already give them if they ask?

  17. Police state.

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