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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 11-23-2005, 03:05 PM Thread Starter
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Big Brother continuing his push

West Palm looks to cameras to spot crime
A test of surveillance cameras might lead to widespread use in the city.
By Andrew Marra

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

WEST PALM BEACH — Police are rolling out surveillance cameras downtown and in the city's most violent neighborhoods, the first step in an ambitious plan to make West Palm Beach the most closely monitored city in South Florida.

In the next month, four cameras are expected to be placed along Clematis Street and in troubled neighborhoods on the city's north side. Able to rotate 360 degrees and read a license plate a half-mile away, they will roll 24 hours a day and can be programmed to zoom in at the sound of gunfire.

Cameras, put at intersections, rotate 360 degrees. Some models recognize gunfire.
West Palm Beach police will test the first four cameras for several weeks before deciding whether to purchase them from a Miami security company. In two years, the department's assistant chief says he hopes to have as many as 100 in place.

"If we could put up 100 throughout the city, that would be ideal," Assistant Chief Guillermo Perez said.

The cameras' arrival will put West Palm Beach in the middle of a national debate about the use of police surveillance in public places. The cameras have been hailed as an innovative police tool and condemned as a dangerous infringement on privacy.

But cities that have used them on a large scale, including Chicago and Baltimore, credit them for significant reductions in crime.

They are not cheap. Perez estimates that each will cost the city roughly $17,000, depending on how many features, including the ability to recognize gunfire, are included.

The police department hopes to buy them with grant money or cash from drug seizures.

The widespread use of police cameras on city streets would be a first in South Florida and the Treasure Coast.

The towns of Palm Beach and Manalapan have installed a handful of basic surveillance cameras. Many cameras throughout the county monitor traffic at major intersections.

But no police agency in South Florida has sought to put so many high-tech surveillance cameras in neighborhoods throughout a city. "This is just one of many tools to help keep the neighborhoods safe," Perez said.

The cameras will record constantly, and their footage likely will be saved for several months, Perez said.

The endless stream of footage will raise questions about how well the department will be able to sift through the material and whether the public will have access to it under public records laws. Perez said many of those issues are still being worked out.

The effectiveness of police surveillance cameras has been questioned. Some experts say studies of their effect on crime rates are conflicting.

A drug dealer may not ply his trade before the lens, they say, but he won't stop dealing. He'll just move to the next block.

Others question whether money for pricey cameras could be better spent on hiring more police officers.

"The more cameras you use, the more data you have and the more you have to pay to process it," said Kevin Watson, spokesman for the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a Virginia-based law enforcement advocacy group. "If you use the same amount of money and put officers on the street, you're guaranteed to have arrests."

Some organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have complained that round-the-clock surveillance cameras infringe on citizens' general expectation of privacy, but courts have ruled that people on streets or public property can be photographed or filmed against their wishes.

The Baltimore Police Department has installed 175 cameras on its most dangerous streets since May and plans to post 75 more. Officials already credit the cameras with a 26 percent drop in crime in the surrounding areas.

"We've caught murderers. We've caught shooters. We spotted a missing child downtown," said Kristen Mahoney, the department's chief of technical services.

She said the cameras are popular among cops and residents, to the point that many volunteer to come in and monitor the footage on video screens while others push to have cameras installed on their streets.

Officers praise the cameras for allowing them to leave a high-crime area in order to respond to other calls without worrying that the area will be left completely unwatched, Mahoney said.

In West Palm Beach, one place where police intend to install a camera is the corner of Sixth Street and Division Avenue, an intersection at the heart of the inner city where drugs and guns are common.

It was welcome news to Toya Barnes, a 23-year-old mother with a 3-year-old boy at home.

Barnes lives with her mother and her son in a small home on the corner of Sixth and Division. She said gun violence has become so common there that she gets nervous when she sees her mother talking to young neighborhood men, fearing she will get caught in a drive-by shooting.

"It's good in certain places," she said of the decision to put a camera outside her house. "There's a lot of shooting going on."
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 11-23-2005, 03:10 PM
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RE: Big Brother continuing his push

430 - 11/23/2005 6:05 PM
"can be programmed to zoom in at the sound of gunfire."
OMG.... that's gonna be so much fun to play with! [8D]
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