Cameras are rolling for public safety
Cameras are rolling for public safety

Oct 1, 1997 12:00 PM
Larry Anderson

Mary Rose Wilcox, a county supervisor in Maricopa County, Ariz., was leaving a board meeting in August when she suddenly felt a gun in her back. Then there was a gunshot, and the .38 revolver delivered a shot in the pelvis.

The perpetrator was an opponent of the county's sales tax to finance a new baseball stadium, approved three years ago by Wilcox and two other supervisors. The gunman was described in published reports as "a transient with a history of mental illness," and his anger about the stadium project was reportedly intensified by a radio talk show's hammering of the issue. Commissioner Wilcox was the only supervisor still in office who had supported the $350 million stadium, financed in part by a quarter-cent county-wide sales tax.

Mary Rose Wilcox spent four days in the hospital after the shooting. Bullet fragments are still lodged in her hip and thigh. Meanwhile, other members of the board took immediate steps to install metal detectors at the entrance to the auditorium where meetings are held. More security guards will be added, and CCTV surveillance cameras will be installed. The price tag, according to media reports, is about $300,000.

For the Maricopa County government, the incident brought uncomfortably close to home an issue city and county governments face constantly - public safety. In this case it was a member of the very government charged with providing public safety who was a victim of crime. All across the country, as local officials look for new ways to ensure public safety, they are increasingly turning to technology - specifically to CCTV - for answers.

It is a trend illustrated perfectly by the Security Industry Association's newly updated version of its "CCTV for Public Safety" report, which will be coming out in the next few weeks. An enhanced version of the 1996 report, the new work highlights 37 U.S. cities that are currently using, or planning to use, CCTV for public safety-related applications.

Here are some examples:

* A surveillance system including six CCTV cameras provides approximately 2 square miles of coverage in Newark, N.J.'s downtown central business district. Cost: $101,791, paid by block grants.

* In Spenard, a middle-class residential and commercial neighborhood in Anchorage, Alaska, a "video patrol" system targets prostitutes, drug dealers, gamblers and after-hours clubs. The video is transferred to a computer, digitized, and hard-copy photos of offenders are provided to police officers and detectives.

* Three video cameras are mounted strategically in Tacoma, Wash., to help police view open-air drug and prostitution markets in the Hilltop neighborhood. In the first four months of operation, police made 55 drug arrests by watching monitors and responding from a nearby storefront when they saw deals going down.

* In Portland, Ore., 43 buses have CCTV cameras hidden in their ticket vending machines. Future plans are to have every revenue vehicle, light rail platform, park-and-ride, transit center and major bus intersect point outfitted with CCTV and alarms.

* Forty-one school campuses in Huntsville, Ala., are protected by CCTV cameras connected to a color digital picture transmission system. Color video is transmitted over standard phone lines or ISDN lines from three to 12 cameras at each school viewing exterior areas, doorways and labs where expensive equipment is housed.

* Owners of 792 properties in downtown Washington, D.C., have agreed to tax themselves a penny a month per square foot to pay for security, maintenance, cleaning and marketing. Fifty-five uniformed security personnel will patrol on foot, aided by CCTV cameras trained on selected streets.

* It will cost an estimated $1 million to install remote-controlled cameras along major roadways in Greensboro, N.C., to warn motorists about congested traffic that ties up interstate highways and major roads. The "intelligence traffic system" will include nine cameras installed along some of the city's major streets this year.

The details of these and other installations are described in the new SIA report, which also includes sections on privacy issues, foreign applications, operational issues, a summary of main problems addressed and 11 appendices. For information on the "CCTV Report for Public Safety," contact the Security Industry Association, 635 Slaters Lane, Suite 100, Alexandria, Va. 22314-1177; phone 703-683-2075; fax 703-683-2469.

Here's one more interesting application from the report: In Fairfield County, Ohio, criminals are "facing the judge" via a CCTV camera and monitor. The defendant stands by in a jail cell while the judge sits at the bench with gavel in hand and arraigns the accused via camera and monitor. It saves the time and trouble required to transport a defendant from jail to the courthouse, which can take up to four hours of a police officer's time.

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