There’s a metal monster looming over Liberty Square, but don’t ask questions about it or else.
By Nick Turse
November 6, 2011
LIBERTY SQUARE – The drummers drummed. The guitarists strummed. And the hearty souls building a new society in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park traded in their tarps for tents as the temperature dropped. All the while, Officer Guzman stood watch.
But there was something special about Officer Guzman. He wasn’t one of the 25 police officers I counted standing on the perimeter of Liberty Square that first wintery day. He wasn’t one of dozens more shooting the breeze with their partners inside a police van or sitting alone in a cruiser texting. Officer Guzman spent the day suspended in the air, two stories up, at the corner of Trinity Place and Liberty Street, inside a little metal box that goes by the name Sky Watch.
For the initiated, Sky Watch is like one of those mechanical forest walkers from the Star Wars movies without the lasers or the walking. Imagine an 7-foot by 6-foot metal box, with blacked out windows on its four sides, bristling with cameras, spotlights, and a small spinning anemometer (to calculate wind speed), atop spindly hydraulic legs that allow it to sit on the ground or rise up two stories. Inside that climate-controlled cube is a control panel with switches to turn on the lights, a joystick to raise and lower the unit, and various other remote controls that Officer Guzman or someone like him can use to direct the cameras and watch their feeds on video screens (while they are recorded on multiple digital video recorders).
Also used by the U.S. military, from Marines in the tiny African nation of Djibouti to sailors at a Navy base in the United Arab Emirates, as well as police departments all around the U.S., the 8,000-plus pound Panopticon-like structure — originally used by hunters to shoot quarry from overhead — has become a favorite of those who are partial to coercive surveillance. As the company that makes them puts it, Sky Watch provides “the vantage point necessary for law enforcement officials to deploy their forces to the greatest effectiveness while simultaneously acting providing [sic] a continuous crime deterrent.”