Cities eye special cameras to detect potential terror

Three area cities plan to use a high-tech tool to help keep an eye out for potential terrorists and other lawbreakers.

Using $225,000 in federal anti-terrorism funds recently awarded by the state, Chelsea, Everett, and Revere will be acquiring specialized video cameras to help detect potential terrorist activities within their communities.

Revere police also plan to use the cameras as a general crime-fighting resource. Everett and Chelsea police say they are focusing use of their federally funded cameras on homeland security, but that the cameras also could provide some assistance in crime fighting.

Chelsea Police Chief Frank J. Garvin, meanwhile, said that he and City Manager Jay Ash have asked the City Council to approve funding for his department to purchase additional cameras that would be dedicated to combating crime.

The Chelsea Housing Authority over the past several years has been installing cameras at its developments to help prevent and solve crimes.

The $225,000 in federal funding for the cameras was part of a $2 million federal Homeland Security grant awarded by the state to seven area communities through the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, a group of chief executives of Boston and 10 surrounding municipalities.

The seven communities -- Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Melrose, Revere, Somerville, and Winthrop -- each received $24,000 to purchase security cameras primarily for use in public safety buildings. But Chelsea, Everett, and Revere were awarded the additional $225,000 because of the special security issues they face as port communities, according to Joel Barrera, project director for the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition.

Revere Police Chief Terence K. Reardon said that the camera system his department is designing is targeted not only at possible terrorist targets but "hot spots that have been identified through our databases as being the most prevalent to crime." He said that is in keeping with the desire of Homeland Security officials to have equipment deployed that can be "functional on a day-to-day basis, not just in regard to [anti-terrorist] needs."

He said one camera will be "watching the port on the Chelsea River where the oil tankers come in and unload." Another will be in the Beachmont area, where it can monitor any land-based terrorist threats to airplanes flying in and out of Logan.

But he also plans to place a camera on Broadway in the downtown, outside the high school, on Shirley Avenue looking out toward Revere Beach, and on Hyman Towers, a public housing complex off Shirley Avenue that is the highest point on the eastern side of the city. Reardon said those cameras would help in tracking both terrorism and crime.

Everett Police Chief Steven A. Mazzie said the primary use of the cameras deployed in Everett will be to "secure the port area and vital industrial areas that could be targeted" by terrorists.

After meeting those needs, "If we had a free camera or two we might be able to monitor some 'hot spot' areas" where crime is occurring, Mazzie said.

"We welcome it," he said of the cameras. "We think it will make our jobs a little easier and allow us to have technology that a lot of people never dreamed of."

Garvin said that the city's cameras funded through the federal grant would look at "assets" such as the Tobin Bridge and public buildings, "things that we feel might be targets" for terrorists.

He said some of those might have the dual function of helping to detect crime, but he said the cameras he is hoping to acquire with city funds would have that direct purpose. Some of those would be stationary and others mobile, he said.

Garvin said he plans to establish a system where police officers review the tapes generated by the cameras. "Some of them can be monitored where necessary in real time," he said.

While the wide use of cameras could raise civil liberties concerns for some people, Garvin said the cameras "are not that intrusive. I think people are willing to pay a certain price to be safe as long as it is not so intrusive that it interferes with your private life." He said the cameras are in public places, "not in your living room."

Mazzie said he has not heard concerns expressed about the use of the cameras. "Most of the comments I receive from people is that they welcome them" as a technological resource to "help keep the community safe."

Reardon said he is sensitive to concerns about the cameras invoking a sense of "Big Brother" watching. He said it is for that reason that he is looking to recruit citizen volunteers to help with monitoring the camera tapes.

Having "your average citizen be the one doing the monitoring I think would probably strike a chord as opposed to the police doing it," he said

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