Watch out — the dozens of security cameras that have been placed throughout the city will soon have human eyes on them.
The city is hiring three retired police officers to watch the security camera monitors this summer. But the officers will do far more than just scan the wall of camera screens. They’ll zoom in on the location of 911 calls while dispatchers send police to the scene, hoping to record faces and license plates even if the suspects escape before police arrive.
They will also use the cameras to continuously scan trouble spots in the Hamilton Hill, Vale, Central State Street and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods. If they see anything suspicious, they’ll relay their concerns to the dispatchers immediately.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he hopes the news will persuade criminals to stop breaking the law or leave the city.
“Either one is fine with me,” he said. “I want them to know. Perhaps we can make them nervous enough that they’re not quite sure where to set up their trade.”
The monitors will work part-time, each spending about 15 hours a week staring at the cameras during the mid-day and evening hours. Those times were chosen because that’s when most of the city’s serious crimes occur, Bennett said.
It’s not yet clear whether the monitors will be effective. District Attorney Robert Carney warned that it will be a difficult job.
“The theory sounds great: if you have someone monitoring a camera and they see something happen and they can direct resources to it, perhaps they can stop a crime — or more likely arrest someone right afterwards,” Carney said.
“The theory is difficult in practice. There’s so many screens. When you’re looking at one, you’re missing 25 others.”
He’s hoping that monitors will work closely with dispatchers, zooming in on criminals while police race to the scene.
“Not only does it provide solid leads but it provides evidence,” Carney said. “Linking them with dispatch is really where we want to go.”
The pilot program will be short-lived. It is being funded through a $20,000 grant from state Department of Criminal Justice Services, but the agency required all monies to be spent by Sept. 30. The county applied for the grant and passed it on to the city.
Once the program ends, the city may continue with volunteers. However, Bennett said he hasn’t yet decided whether to allow them into the department.
“I’m weighing the pros and cons,” he said. “There are some disadvantages, particularly when you go to court.”
More from The Daily Gazette: