New police cameras coming to a corner near you

Plan calls to install 1 camera per week through August.

The city of Dayton announced this week it has began installing surveillance cameras throughout downtown — targeting specific problem areas — as a new police strategy to deter and combat crime.

Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Englewood, Oakwood, Toledo and many other cities across the state and nation already use police security cameras to monitor strategically selected areas. Despite concerns raised by among some privacy advocacy groups, Ohio law enforcement agencies contend live video feeds and surveillance footage have helped reduce crime and identify and prosecute criminal offenders.

Dayton plans to install 27 new cameras that will capture valuable video evidence of criminal activity, and, in some cases, will allow officers to watch in real time areas where there are large events or have been a rash of criminal problems, said police Chief Richard Biehl.

“The use of cameras in open public spaces is pretty common technology in urban centers and has been around for decades,” he said.

But privacy advocates said there is not convincing evidence that cameras deter criminals, and catching people accused of crimes does not justify constantly surveilling honest and law-abiding citizens.

Security cameras already exist throughout downtown Dayton, oftentimes perched outside of businesses, school buildings, libraries, federal facilities and parks.

At the corner of Third and Main streets, there are multiple surveillance cameras, most of which belong to the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority.

But this week, Dayton police added its camera to the street, signalling a change in how the department will oversee public safety in the central business district.

City officials said cameras will be installed along public streets and sidewalks, public transportation interchanges, public parks and outdoor public parking areas. They plan to install about one camera per week, up through late August.

Eye on major events

Biehl said some of the locations include Dave Hall Plaza, pedestrian areas at Courthouse Square and along Monument Street, where many popular special events and festivals are held.

A map released Thursday by the city shows there are 30 possible locations, most between Patterson Boulevard and Ludlow Street, north of Fifth Street.

“A lot of them will be on streets,” Biehl said. “There will be some concentration down around the Monument Street area, because there are a lot of major events there.”

Cameras locations have been identified based on evaluations of crime data and the recommendations of patrol officers and command staff, the chief said.

The cameras will record around the clock. But officers will only monitor either live video feeds during special events or when a criminal pattern has been established in a specific place, Biehl said.

While surveillance cameras are helpful in solving crimes, law enforcement said they are especially useful in theft offenses and property crimes.

Citizens often do not realize they were victimized until long after their property has been either damaged or stolen. Police said they will be able to review video footage for up to two weeks after an incident occurs.

The goal is to prevent people from breaking the law, because video surveillance could catch them in the act, according to Larrell Walters, who heads the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Sensor Systems Division and is working with Dayton police on the project.

When someone commits a crime, the surveillance cameras are expected to help authorities bring the culprits to justice.

“That is the purpose of law enforcement, which is to deter crime and bring justice to those who violate the law,” he said.

$5,000 to install

So far, it has costs Dayton $5,000 for the materials to install the cameras, which were provided for free by UDRI. They were paid for by the Ohio Third Frontier program.

UDRI and city police are calling the initiative, “iDayton Project.” The video feeds will be monitored at the Dayton Tech Town campus.

Walters said UDRI will develop a system that provides police an easy and useful way to view the video feeds. He said UDRI is working to project the camera feeds onto a GPS image of the city, and also to provide a way for police to view video footage on portable electronic devices.

“If I am looking at the image of the city, I can watch the footprint of the camera at Third and Main play out like a movie right in front of me,” Walters said.

Biehl said the city will follow strict policies about use of the cameras, the purposes they serve and access to the footage and retention of video. He said the cameras will not be allowed to “capture private spaces.”

New to technology

The chief notes Dayton is one of late adopters of the video technology among Ohio’s other metros.

Cincinnati police operate more than 100 cameras in high-activity areas, and the effort has helped solve homicides, bank robberies and other serious crimes, officials said. The cameras also contributed to a significant reduction in violent offenses, officials said.

Neighborhoods in Cleveland and Columbus saw sizable reductions in crime after surveillance cameras were installed, according to law enforcement in those cities. Police in Englewood and Oakwood have used surveillance cameras to nab shoplifters, fraudsters and other troublemakers.

Though police can solve more crimes if they can use surveillance cameras, that is not a compelling reason to sacrifice citizens’ privacy, said Gary Daniels, associate director of the ACLU of Ohio.

“All of the technology has good uses, because nobody wants to let the bad guys go,” Daniels said. “But it’s extremely difficult to separate what most people would say are good uses for this technology from the way it can be abused and misused.”

The theory that surveillance cameras prevent crimes is unproven, and the vast network of surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom has not had a meaningful impact on reducing crime rates, Daniels said.

Citizens have few privacy rights once they step outside their homes. But until recent years, that did not matter much since governments were unable to monitor individuals’ movements and activities closely because they lacked the resources, Daniels said.

Technology has changed that, and the “giant web of surveillance” is subject to abuse and threatens people’s privacy, he said.

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