Police had a potential vendor demonstrate the capabilities of a crime-camera system Friday at a Toledo City Council hearing. The so-called SkyCop system would deploy as many as 150 surveillance cameras across the city, which would be monitored at a “Real-Time Crime Center” within the downtown police station.
“The camera system itself is not the be-all, end-all for crime-fighting,” explained Lt. Michael Troemble. “But it is a piece of the pie that we’ve put together that we hope will reduce the violence we’re seeing now and help solve some crimes.”
The police force is down to 543 sworn officers, although two cadet classes are proposed for 2012 to beef up those ranks. Police Chief Derrick Diggs hopes to augment a leaner force with the use of a data-driven crime-fighting model, such as a crime analysis unit to predict “hot spots” and the crime cameras. That four-member analysis unit will be used to monitor the Real Time Crime Center as well.
The vendor chosen by Toledo Police played several TV news clips of how the camera system has worked in Memphis, which has seen its crime rate drop 26 percent in the past five years and its murder rate fall to its lowest level in three decades. City council members even saw surveillance video of an incident where three suspects dragged a drunken man into an alley where they beat and robbed him. All three suspects were arrested within nine minutes with the aid of crime cameras.
Toledo’s system, as proposed, would include covert security cameras for undercover operations. Police plan to employ two mobile monitoring systems, which are usually used at events which draw large crowds, such as a Toledo Mud Hens baseball game or a downtown festival. Some of the cameras will come equipped with microphones mounted on top, which is part of a gunshot recognition system.
“Obviously, we’ll put those in areas where we’re having gun violence to thwart those kinds of crimes,” said Lt. Troemble. “With this technology, we’re hoping to get control of that and start arresting the guys involved by having the video evidence of them participating in that kind of violence.”
The cameras would be placed on existing city infrastructure, such as telephone poles, light posts, or on specially-mounted poles. They would be installed in such a way to prevent vandalism. Most of the cameras have a flashing blue light, warning people they are being monitored. The vendor stated that feature has successfully driven crime away from concentrated areas such as downtown Memphis. That proved to be a cause for concern from one city councilman.
“I don’t want the riff-raff coming into my area, said Republican Tom Waniewski, who represents the city’s fifth district in West Toledo. “If you put those cameras in areas where the activity level is high, I'm concerned it's going to come into my area."
Top police officials intend to analyze and review crime statistics, calls for service, and other information to determine where to place the crime cameras, which have a range of up to a mile.
The vendor stated crime cameras can be monitored remotely on smart phones, IPads, and digital tablets. Other system capabilities include license plate recognition technology, infrared, and thermal detection systems. Those features can be added in the future.
The estimated cost of the crime camera system, however, is much higher than initially proposed. Toledo Police told city council members in attendance their preferred system would cost $1.6 million. $950,000 of the funding would come from the department’s law enforcement trust fund, which results from drug forfeitures and impounded vehicle auctions.
Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat informed council members the city would request $700,000 from the capital improvements fund, which typically pays for long-term projects and street-paving.
While many on council openly support the crime-camera system, some questioned the capital improvement expenditure after the purchase of nine motorcycles was approved last month.
“Why would we spend a quarter-million dollars on motorcycles when that money could have been used in a far more positive manner by putting it into this program,” said councilman Mike Collins, an independent.
Collins is concerned police want other capital improvement items, such as vehicles and equipment. But he supports the crime-camera system as a top priority.
TPD plans on buying 150 cameras
A plan to install surveillance cameras throughout Toledo to help fight crime is far more extensive than initially proposed.
The Toledo Police Department said Friday it hopes to buy about 150 cameras for placement throughout the city, double the number put forward by police Chief Derrick Diggs in December when he announced the plan.
The cameras would feed live video to a “Real Time Crime Center” inside the downtown police headquarters, where officers would use the data for criminal investigations and as a crime deterrent, police officials said.
Department officials estimated the cost of the camera system at $1.6 million — up from the $812,000 to $1.2 million outlined in the announcement late last year. At the time, the department said the money would come from its Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is made up of revenue seized during investigations and from auto auctions.
About half the projected expenditure would come from this fund. However, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat told council during a hearing Friday the department will seek about $700,000 from the city's capital improvements fund.
That irked some councilmen, who said they support the surveillance initiative but had not expected the additional funding request. Last month, council approved the purchase of nine motorcycles for the police department, and Councilman Steven Steel said he might have reconsidered his vote if he'd known the department wanted money for cameras as well.
“I wish they would have talked about public safety in a more holistic way so we would have known exactly how much money we would be asked to appropriate,” Mr. Steel said.
Councilman D. Michael Collins said he was also surprised by the need for capital improvements money, which is typically used for projects such as street repairs. Mr. Collins said he would support the spending on the cameras, but is concerned the police department has more requests in the pipeline.
Officials have yet to complete the 2012 capital improvements budget, but a five-year outline put together by the administration suggests a $524,000 expenditure for police vehicles this year.
“Any additional needs coming out of the [capital improvements fund] will require more than an anecdotal justification,” Mr. Collins said.
Deputy Police Chief George Taylor said the department’s first estimates for the project were based on the money they knew was available in the Law Enforcement Trust Fund. Officials did not know if or how much money could be accessed from capital improvements, he said. The exact number of cameras to be purchased is being worked out and will depend on the type of surveillance features the department determines are necessary, the deputy chief added.
Executives from Memphis-based ESI Companies, Inc., which would supply the technology, gave a presentation to councilmen Friday. Cameras sold to Toledo would be able to detect gunshots, scan license plate numbers on vehicles traveling up to 200 miles per hour, capture images at night, and zoom in on facial features, sales manager Ryan Barnett said.
The company showed news reports indicating that the program has successfully helped lower crime rates in Memphis.
Mr. Barnett said the cameras can attach to utility poles and be easily taken down and moved. The cameras can be placed in hard-to-reach locations to avert destruction or theft, authorities said. Special undercover surveillance units can be used to keep watch on drug houses and other suspect locations, he said.
Toledo police also hope to buy at least two mobile camera units that could be used at large events such as festivals or sports games.
Councilmen at the hearing reacted enthusiastically to the plan.
“I was very impressed with the presentation,” George Sarantou said. “I’ve looked at the data and there’s no question in my mind that crime definitely goes down with the presence of these cameras. ...”
Mr. Collins said he did his own research on the cameras and concluded they are worth the investment.
However, he expressed misgivings over whether there will be enough police staff to watch all the footage.
Capt. Louise Eggert of the fiscal affairs bureau said to start out, four officers would work at the crime center during weekdays, taking down data from the surveillance cameras.
When the crime center isn’t manned, the cameras will record footage that can be looked at later to help with investigations, she said. “We’re trying to use the technology that's available to assist us. I think it will be very helpful to officers.”
For some, the cameras spur privacy concerns. Chris Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said there is no proof the cameras stop crime. Moreover, the surveillance tools could easily be misused by errant officials, she said.
“We do have an expectation of a right to privacy and the idea of being followed around every day as we walk around downtown is really pretty creepy,” Ms. Link said.
The state ACLU director balked at the amount Toledo intends to spend on the cameras. She said putting more officers on the streets would be a far more effective use of money.
“No camera has ever stopped a crime to my knowledge,” she said. “These aren’t crime stoppers, they are just a tool. Police on the street, however, can stop a crime.”
But Ms. Eggert said the use of such technology is simply a reality.
“There are cameras everywhere right now,” she said, listing traffic patrol and red-light cameras, along with surveillance equipment in stores. “That’s our future.”
Council is expected to give a first reading to the funding request at its regular meeting Tuesday.