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City zooms in on video camera plan


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Columbus safety officials plan to put more eyes on the street looking for crime — unblinking electronic eyes, that is.

Locations around Columbus would be outfitted with high-definition video cameras beaming street and park activities to the county emergency operations center and police department front desk. That’s under a proposal up for consideration during the next month, Police Chief Jason Maddix said.

Police officers would be able to access the camera feeds from laptop computers or tablets in their squad cars, police said.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the camera idea arose from residents’ comments at neighborhood meetings.

“This is going to, for a relatively small capital expenditure, pay great dividends and increase our ability in terms of investigations,” Brown said.

The city’s technical advisory committee is preparing bid request documents to outfit cameras at 11th and Washington streets, Fourth and Washington streets and Morningside Park in the East Columbus neighborhood.

A second camera would also be added at Ninth Street Park, and one camera would be installed at the police firearms training facility.

Initial cost estimates for the project were up to $116,300, which would be paid from a capital fund in the technical advisory committee’s budget. City officials hope to have a request for proposals sent out to vendors by mid-December and to have bids back by mid-January.

The cameras likely would be installed early next year.

The city has been targeting police efforts in the neighborhoods around 11th and Washington streets and Ninth Street Park due to the high number of police calls to the areas and resident complaints.

Maddix said the Fourth and Washington street intersection is being considered for surveillance because of the large number of public events held in the area.

That area also has a high concentration of alcohol sales and high-value public property in The Commons, Brown said.

Crime-stopping tool

City officials were impressed with results from Indiana State Police cameras deployed during the Sept. 28 Mill Race Marathon, Maddix said. Those cameras kept an eye on the downtown crowd and were able to zoom in and identify unattended packages and activities, he said.

“They really served as a force multiplier for us, giving us the opportunity to conduct surveillance,” Maddix said.

“We had one person watching six cameras; and if we had a report of something or suspicious activity, the trooper operating those cameras could immediately turn to the camera, zoom it in and see what was going on before our officers could even respond and get on the scene.”

Police also have been happy with the security camera installed at Ninth Street Park this year, Maddix said.

That camera’s video has been used several times during investigations, said Deputy Police Chief Todd Harry, who has been researching the cameras for the police department for several months.

The cameras would allow officers to watch an area for criminal activity without having to have a patrol car parked across the street, Harry said.

For example, an officer could park several blocks away from the 11th and Washington street intersection and watch for drug activity without tipping off suspects.

“It is kind of a double threat. We have a benefit from deterring crime, and also we look at the investigative tool we would be gaining from these cameras,” Harry said.

Multipurpose software

The cameras would include software that allows them to search for certain colors of vehicles or that can warn police when someone enters a restricted zone, such as a city park after hours, Harry said.

And it can recognize patterns, such as if a particular vehicle repeatedly comes into a space every day at a certain time, he said.

“We can tell the system that if something bigger than a cat walks into that space it will send an electronic alert to a mobile device like a iPhone, iPad or mobile computer,” Harry said.

The video quality will be high enough that officers could zoom in to read a license plate or identify a person, but the city does not plan to use software for license plate recognition or for facial recognition, he said.

Murder suspect Ryan Klug was arrested in Galveston, Texas, after a camera set up to record license plate numbers of vehicles disregarding a stoplight identified his vehicle, Maddix said.

Several camera locations would include infrared equipment that will be able to see at night and speakers so that police or dispatchers could communicate directly with people in the area, police said.

The city plans to include a bank of monitors at the front desk of the police department on the first floor of City Hall and at the dispatch center on Cherry Street in the East Columbus neighborhood, Brown said.

An officer is on duty at the front desk from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and dispatchers are on duty around the clock at the dispatch center.

Maddix said the video would be archived for at least several months and could be used by police, prosecutors or the public during legal proceedings.

City Attorney Jeff Logston said that the same city rules governing police surveillance and activities would be applied to the security cameras.

Maddix said people on the street or in public view should have no expectation of privacy and that those are the same areas the cameras would be viewing.

Brown said it is unlikely that the city would make the camera feeds available for the general public to view live because of privacy concerns. But people on public streets or in the parks should not be concerned about the surveillance cameras, she said.

“In this day and age, everyone is pretty accustomed, outside their home, they are on surveillance cameras,” Brown said. “They are so omnipresent at this point.”

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