Sunday, July 10, 2005

Why Just Us?

Shouldn’t Police Officers have cameras with audio trained back on them? What is fair for the goose should be also for the gander. Reducing crime and corruption should also mean the watchers being watched and held accountable.

We don’t want police cars used by police officers and cheap hotels, torture chambers for extracting false confessions, and a haven where officers can congregate to obstruct justice.

Officers will get the respect they deserve and we the people, justice, if cops, prosecutors, and judges face civilian oversight and receive the same surveillance we do as average citizens.

Fair is fair.

A VIDEO CAMERA sits atop a pole at Park and Zion streets in Hartford, providing surveillance intended to deter crime. The test camera started recording Friday. Police and residents favor a plan to put 40 cameras on Park Street, but there is no funding.

Jul. 8, 2005
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant
Posted by Picasa

Cameras May Give Police Eye On Crime
Value Of Video Monitors Gaining Attention In City
July 10, 2005 By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

Margarita Quinones tells anyone who's up to no good near her Park Street jewelry store about the security cameras across the street - from passersby drinking beer to the two armed, masked men who tried to rob her a year and a half ago.

The thing is, although Quinones loves the idea of lining Park Street with more than 40 security cameras, there's no funding in place for the full system yet, and there's only one test camera on the street now. It's a half-mile away, and until Friday afternoon, it wasn't recording anything.

But the robbers who came into Veronica's Jewelry didn't know that back in February 2004.

"I said, `You know what? You don't know it, but right now, that camera that's on that building is taping everything you're doing,'" Quinones said, telling the story of how she fooled two men before slipping by them as they looked for the cameras.

"So you can take the money, but you're not going to get away from the police. Because they're going to come get you."

Quinones got the idea about the cameras from a meeting of the Spanish American Merchants Association the night before she was robbed. In what began with a $14,000 study paid for by Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, the association hopes to have the state help pay for a $330,000, 44-camera system that would line Park Street from Park Terrace to Main Street. The goal is to improve public safety, protect business investments and deter crime, said Julio Mendoza, the association's executive director.

"Park Street is doing well, but we want to make sure that we maintain it that way," Mendoza said.

In an unrelated move, Hartford police and the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance are at the very early stages of considering a neighborhood camera program.

Nationwide, the idea of fighting crime with cameras is gaining ground. Baltimore, for instance, will soon have more than 150 cameras in its Inner Harbor area, its downtown, and some troubled crime areas. The $10 million program is modeled after similar ones in London, Chicago and Jersey City.

The cameras do have their critics. Annette Lamoreaux, legal director of Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, said Hartford needs more police officers, not more gizmos. Video cameras can have the negative effect of forcing crime into even more dangerous areas that are not being watched, she said. Also, personal privacy becomes a quick issue, she said.

"Let's say you're having an affair," she said.

"You're walking down the street with the person. ... Should somebody be able to subpoena those records in a divorce proceeding? The potential for abuse is quite staggering."

But supporters like Quinones insist the cameras will only be doing what police already have the right to do - monitoring public spaces.

"If you're going to do something illicit, well, go and do it in your house," she said.

"Because we're not going to tolerate it on our streets, nor in our store, nor in our community."

Watchful EyeEastern Avenue is an artery that brings people from outside Baltimore to the heart of what is known as Greektown. About five years ago, when the drug trade in Greektown's commercial corridor on Eastern Avenue was a problem, neighborhood advocates decided to put up two cameras looking at five blocks for a total cost of about $250,000.

"We're not doing this to look into people's windows or people's businesses," said Todd Bonicker, chairman of the public safety initiative of the Greektown Community Development Corp.

"Folks feel better that this is out there, that it will help the neighborhood rebound from a period of decline."In Greektown, the cameras are monitored about 15 to 20 hours a week by volunteers who report any suspicious activity to the police, Bonicker said.

The folks at Greektown are also considering software that can be designed to recognize suspicious activity - Was that a handshake, or was it a drug transfer? Was that a family waiting for a ride or a group of guys loitering? - and alert the viewer to it, he said.

Then it would be up to the viewer to decide whether to call police.

By the end of the year, the Baltimore City Police Department hopes to have seven cameras trained on the Inner Harbor, 20 portable cameras for spot use by police on two hours' notice, 50 cameras monitoring downtown, and what will be 80 more covering some of the city's crime-ridden neighborhoods, said Matt Jablow, a police department spokesman. Most of the cameras are monitored in real time, some by police, some by volunteers, he said.

The hefty price tag has been paid for with a combination of homeland security funding and drug money seized by police, he said.

"We haven't heard any complaints from the people in the neighborhoods where the cameras are going up," Jablow said.

And, Jablow said, they can be useful - not long ago, a missing baby girl was found when she was spotted on a camera with the 17-year-old who was supposed to be watching her. Since the downtown cameras were launched in May, the police have made 57 arrests in which the cameras played a role, he said.

Taking It Slow

Perched high above the corner of Park and Zion streets is a little black hemisphere of glass.

Gamblers might recognize it as similar to the casino's eye on the blackjack table, but Mendoza and others are hoping residents will soon recognize it as the neighborhood's eye on crime. It is a pilot camera that was activated in the spring.

Freddy Ortiz, who works the counter at the Santiago Market at that corner, says he's not sure if people even know the camera is there, much less fear it. Just the other night, a few guys all but destroyed a small street-side tree that is clearly in the camera's line of sight, he said.

Friday afternoon, the camera began recording the corner. Video fed to the city public works department can be checked if a crime has occurred.

Talks for a citywide system are still preliminary, said police department spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy. If a city-sponsored program emerges, it could begin with a pilot in Asylum Hill, she said.

Cameras wouldn't be new to Hartford. More than 45 cameras already peer about the city's major intersections, but federal funding guidelines limit their use to monitoring traffic, Mulroy said.

"It's a priority for the chief and a priority for the mayor, I understand," she said, adding a bit of caution about the cost of cameras and the manpower it would take to monitor them.

"The city can't take on enormous new projects," she said.

"We have to balance our resources."

State Sen. John W. Fonfara, D-Hartford, supports the Park Street plan enthusiastically, he said.

"We all know that we can't have a police officer on every corner," Fonfara said, adding that he wants to speak with the mayor and police chief about monitoring the video cameras.

"But this would be a good tool for the police department.""As much as it's an enforcement tool, it's a deterrent," he said.

For now, Margarita Quinones said she'll continue to do what she's done - scare people by the mere thought of cameras, even if the reality of a camera on every corner is a distant dream.

"I say, `You know something, sir? Did you know that, here on Park Street, we have cameras that are taping everything that you are doing?' I do that to everyone."

"They say to me, `Really?'"

"I say, `Really.'"

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