The mystery surrounding those boxes of cameras on utility poles in St. Lawrence County has been solved - sort of.
7 News got some answers Friday from Derek Champagne, Franklin County's district attorney.
"It's simply license plate readers and it's just simply part of a grant regarding border related crime," said Champagne.
However, he wouldn't comment on who put up the cameras or what it cost.
"I can only tell you it was originally federal funding and I can't necessarily tell you the exact amount," said Champagne.
He did say the money was not awarded to his office.
"My office is intricately involved because my office was the only office in the north country with enough computer memory to go ahead and be able to store this information to help the other counties and the other agencies have access to it."
According to Champagne, an estimated $1 billion worth of drugs are smuggled south through St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton counties every year.
"Hopefully we can confirm or disavow what's going on regarding some of these stops and seizures," he said. "(It's for) border-related crime...Local traffic is not the focus of this project."
A number of people in St. Lawrence County have expressed concern over the cameras.
Many of them are upset because they feel like Big Brother is watching them - in reference to George Orwell's book "1984."
"A few strategically placed licensed plate readers is part of a grant is way far from Big Brother especially when you put it in the context of what's going on in other cities and other areas of the state," said Champagne.
He said north country counties have had license plate readers in dozens of patrol cars for years.
This is the first time funding was made available to install stationary cameras in the region, he said.
See our earlier report
The following is a news release from Champagne's office:
The North Country recently received a grant to obtain stationary license plate readers (LPR) to better monitor and determine border related crime.
While there have been and continue to be dozens of LPR's on numerous state, county and local law enforcement vehicles, there was no focused effort at matching seizures of narcotics, aliens and other contraband found across the North Country. Recent estimates have placed the yearly smuggling of narcotics through the New York Northern Border at approximately one billion dollars per year, yet due to the seven unmanned roads crossing the border in Franklin County, exact calculations and verification have been exceedingly difficult.
The deployment of the recent LPR's is an effort at matching up seizures across the state with the Northern Border or potentially determining that these drugs and aliens are not coming from Clinton, Franklin or St. Lawrence Counties. Under the grant, vehicles and seizures seized across New York State and other States of drugs or contraband alleged to be connected to the Northern Border can quickly be checked against LPR data from the North Country. It is hoped that this project can assist determining exactly what kind of border related crime is actually occurring and then assist law enforcement in obtaining resources if the figures are as high as estimated.
Local traffic is not the focus of this project however the traffic numbers will be made available to DOT should they require any information for traffic counting, road work or related highway projects. The Franklin County Border Narcotics Taskforce has the largest available computer memory, so we are housing the data and entering into agreements with agencies for the specific use of data during the grant period.
With the decreased cost of LPR'S in recent years their use has greatly increased. The New York City area has in excess of 250 LPR's and some cities like Chicago have over 1000 cameras deployed. These devices will only be deployed on public highways and right of ways under this project.
The electronic device referred to in Massena was not part of this project and was installed by a separate federal agency on a separate investigative matter.
At the conclusion of the grant the devices will be turned over to our Taskforce and we will either enter into agreements with local law enforcement to leave the LPR'S stationary or move them to other requested locations. Several local burglaries have recently been solved as a result of the LPR data, but the primary focus remains border and interstate cases.