By Daniel J. Chacon
The Rocky Mountain News
DENVER, Colo. — Surveillance cameras that trigger a police alert within seconds of detecting a graffiti vandal in action are coming to Denver next month, making the city the first in the nation to test the cutting-edge spy equipment.
"Graffiti isn't unique to Denver, but I believe that Denver is in a unique place that we can help be the trailblazer in these efforts," Mayor John Hickenlooper said Wednesday.
The cameras are part of a growing use of surveillance equipment in law enforcement. The crime-fighting technology allows departments to give citizens what is otherwise nearly impossible: a cop on every corner, 2 4/7.
On Tuesday, for example, LoDo residents suggested that neighborhood bars and nightclubs be required to install cameras to deter crime after back-to-back shootings left one person dead and seven others wounded.
Hickenlooper, who used to own a brewpub in LoDo, said he was open to the idea but that it should be vetted with business owners.
"I suspect (the cameras) would cut down on the rough characters coming in," he said.
Doing a good job
Businessman Jim Hannifin, who owns Ready Temporary Services and is a member of the Colfax Business Improvement District, said several cameras installed along some of the seediest areas of the commercial corridor in 2005 have reduced crime.
"If the BID decided to take those cameras down, those property owners and businessmen up there would lynch us," he said. "They're so effective, and they've done such a good job ... I just wish we had more money to put them up and down the street."
The Denver Police Department said Wednesday that it is difficult to quantify how much of a reduction in crime along Colfax is attributable to the cameras.
Detective Donny Moses of the Baltimore Police Department, which has about 300 cameras scattered throughout the city, said residents out there are wishing for more cameras, too.
The city of Baltimore has spent about $8 million on its surveillance camera equipment.
Moses said the city's investment is paying off. He said violent crime is down in areas of the city where it was prevalent before cameras were installed.
"Every day, we're getting citizens calling and asking, 'How can we get a camera in our neighborhood or in our block?' " he said.
The cameras will be a "powerful weapon in our anti-graffiti arsenal," police Sgt. Ernie Martinez said. "It's the wave of the future, utilizing technology to be more effective in law enforcement and catching criminals."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has raised concerns about video surveillance, saying it has the "potential to erode privacy, inhibit freedom and chill public expression in public places."
An ACLU spokeswoman did not return calls Wednesday.
But Hannifin dismissed such concerns.
"Hell, anybody walking down Colfax has no expectation of being private," he said.
'Going to get caught'
The technology was developed by a North Carolina-based surveillance equipment manufacturer that has developed security systems for nuclear facilities and NATO locations, among others.
Its undercover surveillance products range from vehicle- tracking systems to body wires.
The cameras are invaluable, said Paul Feldman, the company's president and CEO.
"If you're a tagger in the city of Denver, you're going to get caught," Feldman said.
Denver receives about 2,000 graffiti-related calls monthly and spends more than $1 million annually on graffiti removal.
"Our response has to be comprehensive," Hickenlooper said. "It has to incorporate prevention, abatement and enforcement, and there has to be a commitment to a long-term strategy."
* The eight cordless, digital "graffiti cams" that Denver will have in operation by next month are activated by graffiti-related movement. They immediately notify police with text messages, allowing officers to catch taggers red-handed.
* The cameras, which will be installed at various graffiti "hot spots," are mobile, weather-proof and camouflaged. The department plans to put at least one in each police district and will change locations every few days.
* The graffiti cams, which the company is providing to the city for free, cost about $5,000 each.
* If the city is satisfied with the results, the company will donate the cameras to the police department after a 30-day trial run.
Denver readies graffiti cameras