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August 15, 2007
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City in N.Y. turns to crime-catching cameras to fight crime

By Brian Sharp
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Would-be criminals could soon be casting a wary eye skyward — toward an initial deployment of 75 surveillance cameras that Rochester police want to have in place by mid-November.

The much-discussed proposal has grown from the 28 cameras budgeted earlier this year — and far beyond an initial set-aside last summer for two digital video cameras, one for either side of the city. Police intend to build a system capable of expanding to 250 cameras that will keep 24-hour watch on high-crime areas such as North Clinton Avenue.

"I don't know if that is a need to have," Deputy Chief George Markert said, describing 250 cameras as a "stretch goal." "You'll want a lot more than 75, I'm sure."

Some cameras are being earmarked for downtown, as well.

The department is sorting through vendor proposals submitted before the close of bidding Tuesday. Markert wants to get legislation before City Council by Thursday and no later than next Tuesday's formal meeting.

Rochester is modeling its surveillance system after Chicago's, which deploys more than 200 cameras citywide. Elsewhere, Newark, N.J., announced plans this week to spend $3.2 million to erect 100 surveillance cameras and an audio gunshot-detection system after the schoolyard slayings of three college students there Aug. 4.

Markert said Rochester has $1.3 million to spend on cameras and a monitoring system. Police here already have a gunshot detection system called ShotSpotter, which blankets six square miles of the city with audio sensors to detect and pinpoint gunshots. Cameras would work in tandem with that system and could zoom in to catch suspect faces and vehicle license plate numbers.

"These are not something you buy at Wal-Mart," Markert said. "They are cameras that have to be built."

The city's plan is to have a single high-resolution color camera — or a pair — encased in a metal box, clearly marked and mounted on telephone poles or buildings. Each camera could pan, zoom and tilt; everything would be recorded and stored, and video could be transmitted to headquarters or receivers in squad cars.

Technology is available that would set off alarms based on movement or entry into an area. Police also could enter license plate numbers from stolen or suspect vehicles. When a vehicle with that plate came into view, the system could recognize the plate number and alert the system monitor.

City Council member Carolee Conklin, who has been pushing for the cameras, says "it's taken far too long" to get to this point. Police and city officials blame the delay on the network complexities, rapidly changing technology and increasing options made possible by state grants and added city funds.

Meanwhile, Carleen Alhart and her neighbors in the Jones Square neighborhood off Lyell Avenue have been working to improve the area until the time when prostitutes and drug dealers might be driven away by the cameras.

"I know they're not cheap, but you can point up and say, 'You're being watched.' I think that is something right there," said Alhart, who has lived in the neighborhood, on and off, for nearly 20 years. "It's not going to stop them from doing what they're doing, but it certainly should change their location."

Each camera is estimated to cost $20,000. Cameras could be moved as needed, but Markert said police departments in other cities, such as Chicago, report that "when they go to move the cameras, there is such a public outcry, they are not able to move them as frequently as they want."

Alhart said she would be understanding if such a temporary move were needed, telling police: "You can borrow it, but I want it back."

Copyright 2007 The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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