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Cincinnati ready to expand police use of remote cameras


CINCINNATI (AP) — The city wants to expand its use of high-resolution neighborhood cameras because police say the technology has improved investigations of drug deals, assaults and prostitution in just three months.

Mounted on buildings and bridges and often mistaken for lights, the cameras have been used since June in four neighborhoods, with both police and citizen volunteers monitoring them.

Cincinnati City Council is considering a plan to buy 117 more cameras and install them in 16 more neighborhoods. The panel’s public safety committee recommended the expansion last week.

Because they’re so new, data on camera-assisted arrests is limited. In June and July, arrests on one street in the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood doubled to 70, most of them related to drugs.

The cameras cost about $5,000 each, and neighborhoods pay monthly upkeep of $49 to $99 per unit. The cameras transmit by wireless signal to police facilities and a center at the Cincinnati-based manufacturer, CityWatcher.com.

The company is trying to sell its cameras to Cleveland next week, and Toledo and East St. Louis, Ill., are trying them out. Chicago police use cameras citywide.

Cincinnati police say the new cameras fared much better than a failed experiment with $20,000 units that were hard to move and too far apart, letting drug dealers and other criminals step out of range once locations were known. Now someone can step out of one camera’s view, right into another’s.

“The technology is just so good,” said Lt. Col. James Whalen, commander for the district including Over-the-Rhine. “The pictures are very, very clear. You can count the pieces of crack in somebody’s hand. You can see the denominations of money.”

Jim Bodmer, a community activist, is convinced of the cameras’ value and wants them in his neighborhood — not because crime is out of hand there, but to keep it from getting that way.

Getting requests from neighborhoods and relying on citizen volunteers helps reduce “Big Brother” concerns that many people raise about using the cameras, said police and Sean Darks, CityWatcher.com’s chief executive.

So far, about 150 officers and 40 residents are trained to monitor the cameras. Ideas for the expansion include setting up viewing sites in community centers and installing laptops in police cruisers so officers can monitor a camera from around the block.

Bodmer took a training class on using the cameras with a group of police officers, watching a drug deal unfold.

“One of the officers (watching) called on his radio, and then we watched while the guy got arrested,” he said.

Mayor Charlie Luken is among those still not sold on the idea. In June, he vetoed a council-approved plan to use cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners, saying budget crunches were motivating the plan.

Luken, stepping down when his term ends this year, said he also had privacy concerns.

“One day, every time we walk outside — every move we make — will be recorded. But I’m not looking forward to it,” he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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