Schenectady County

Schenectady resident offers city police a hand

Those electronic eyes that record drug deals, beatings and other crimes throughout the city should h
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Those electronic eyes that record drug deals, beatings and other crimes throughout the city should have a living, breathing human being behind them calling for help, resident James Weaver said.

The police don’t have the budget to pay someone to watch the city’s surveillance cameras, so Weaver has offered to do it for free.

Not only is Weaver willing to peer into more than 18 monitors for hours at a time, but he thinks he can enlist others to volunteer as well.

“It’s because I have a kid,” he said. “I want our community safe — not just for mine but everybody’s.”

This is nothing new for Weaver, who says he already patrols his neighborhood in his spare time. The Bellevue resident whips out binoculars even when he’s resting on his porch, getting detailed descriptions of criminals. He’s called police for everything from petty thievery to heroin deals in his neighborhood. Now he wants to watch the whole city.

He figures that if someone watches the cameras, police can be notified as soon as the crime begins, rather than just relying on the recording to catch the criminal later.

“The cops can’t be at every crime. It’s impossible,” Weaver said. “We’d love to be trained to watch these cameras for free.”

The city is expanding the camera network but still has no one to watch the feed regularly. A grant will pay for a few hours of surveillance this year, but nothing more than that, city officials said.

BENNETT INTERESTED

So Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he would seriously consider Weaver’s proposal.

“We need to take a serious look at any offer of assistance,” he said.

But, he warned, volunteers must be able to pass a criminal background check. Just as important, they would need the ability to communicate clearly on the witness stand, Bennett said, because they would occasionally be called to testify on what they’d seen.

“You don’t want a situation where they may not be able to articulate it, through no fault of their own. We’d need to evaluate them,” Bennett said.

He would also have to make sure the police union doesn’t oppose the idea. Although police rarely watch the cameras now, the union generally objects if any work is passed to nonunion members.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said he would discuss the idea with Bennett before making a decision. Although no promises have been made, Weaver was heartened by the positive response.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

If watched, the cameras would, in effect, more than double the number of law enforcement eyes on the street. Weaver thinks it would make a big difference.

“Because nobody’s watching them. The only time they look at them is when a crime’s occurred. That’s no good,” he said. “I have the spare time and I care.”

Weaver has been trying to fight criminals on a volunteer basis for years.

He was part of Child Find until he got fed up with being called out at 11 p.m. for children who had not come home when school got out at 3 p.m. Then he patrolled with Bellevue’s neighborhood watch until bickering split the group.

“Then I just started doing it on my own,” he said.

He’s somewhat of a hero on his street, where neighbor Ed Drebitko called him “our one-man neighborhood watch.”

“He’s is the kind of neighbor you want to have,” Drebitko added.

A moment later, Weaver was trying to talk the single father into joining his camera-watching cause. Drebitko demurred at first, but confessed that he too works to improve the neighborhood.

“Somebody’s got to do it because no one else will,” Drebitko said.

Weaver grinned in triumph. “I’m sure I can get two hours out of him,” he said. “I know he’s a concerned parent also.”

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