Surveillance network in polygamous towns may have 60 cameras
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News continues to trickle out about the security cameras in southern Utah's twin polygamous towns, and now it looks like the mysterious surveillance network may be even more extensive than previously thought.
At least that's according to Guy Timpson, who said Wednesday evening that he helped operate the cameras in 2010, when he was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to Timpson, there may be as many as 60 cameras scattered throughout the community, considerably more than the 29 we spotted for our original story.
As part of last week's report on the cameras, I got in touch with Timpson, who lives in the Short Creek area and left the FLDS church in 2010. Timpson initially said he wasn't comfortable being quoted for a story due to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the cameras.
But after talking to KUTV Channel 2 News for a report that aired Wednesday, Timpson told me his legal counsel had given him the go ahead to speak on the record.
What he had to say was both remarkable and confirmed much of what we already reported.
According to Timpson, he spent about four months running the cameras before he became disillusioned with the church and left.
The cameras are operated through a central control room in the FLDS's Leroy S. Johnson meetinghouse, Timpson said. The room also controls gates and doors on FLDS properties.
When Timpson was working the cameras, members of the FLDS church took shifts operating the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Timpson said that in 2010, two men worked "four days on, three days off" watching the community. The cameras are high powered and can zoom in on license plates and faces. Another camera sits high above the meetinghouse on a flag pole and spins 360 degrees at all times.
"We could see what people were saying just by reading lips if you were good enough," he recalled.
In 2010, there were between 30 and 40 cameras, Timpson said. He estimates that today there are at least 60. The cameras are high powered and were used to watch William E. Jessop, who left the church and formed his own congregation, and Willie Jessop, a former spokesman for the church who also abandoned it. Timpson said the cameras were also used to spy on families in the community. Visitors are certainly watched, he added.
Timpson went on to say that the FLDS church has access to cameras on city property.
"The city may or may not have access to church cameras," Timpson said, "but the church absolutely has access to the cities' cameras."
Timpson's comments contradict statements made by Hildale city attorney Blake Hamilton, who said last week that city security cameras are not wired into any larger system. I called Hamilton Wednesday night, but his office was closed.
But Timpson stressed that he had first-hand knowledge of the cameras and was "shocked" by Hamilton's assertion that the city system was independent. He also said that he saw the mayors of Hildale and Colorado City - who, he said, are also high ranking FLDS members - also working the church's cameras.
And he has seen local marshal's using the system to check license plate numbers.
Timpson also confirmed that the cameras are used to spy on active members of the FLDS church. He said that 25 or more cameras are positioned in the FLDS's Leroy S. Johnson meetinghouse. Among other things, he said they can zoom in to see what people are writing or as close as "a spot on their faces."
The idea, he stressed, is to know what the FLDS church members are doing.
Among others, Timpson's own mother, Ada Timpson, ended up being a victim of the surveillance network. Timpson said that Ada used to work at the FLDS health clinic but in December 2010 the cameras spotted her attending a meeting that angered the church's leadership. Within days, Ada's FLDS boss fired her.
Timpson said he eventually concluded that spying on people was at odds with a church that was supposed to be doing the will of God. That lead to his departure from the church.
As we wrote Wednesday, our polygamy team is hoping for help identifying more of these cameras. If you've seen any, or have a picture, email us.