A new wave of video technology is sweeping through the Clinton Police Department, as the downtown is now home to six police-monitored surveillance cameras perched strategically atop buildings and half the department’s patrol fleet is utilizing in-car camera systems.
The downtown cameras have been a work in progress for the last year, having received City Council approval last February, whereas the in-car cameras were approved as part of the current 2012-13 budget and were installed on a permanent basis about a month ago.
Police chief Jay Tilley said the technology is groundbreaking for the Clinton Police Department, and is expected to greatly assist with operations, investigations and training. The technology is also expected to aid the general public, especially the case with the downtown surveillance.
Currently, there are six city-owned cameras and one privately-owned camera — and there is plenty of room for growth.
“We put up six cameras as part of the city’s base system in the downtown area,” said Tilley. “The system allows any business or any person to purchase a camera and put it on their property and we’ll monitor it. It’s a rotation basis and we set the rotation for it. We’re scanning and every 15 seconds it will move to another scan location, and start the rotation over again. It’s great video.”
The system currently provides real-time looks all around the courthouse square, as well as down McKoy Street, Elizabeth Street and several other streets on the outskirts of downtown .The video can be stopped and the view zoomed in on any items of interest as needed.
There is also a month-long library kept of all recordings.
“We keep 30 days of video, around the clock, 24 hours a day,” the police chief said.
The City Council voted unanimously at the beginning of 2012 to proceed with the purchase and installation of six wireless digital IP-based patrolling cameras and a digital video recorder from WildFire at a cost of $36,812. Along with providing extra security for downtown businesses, the cameras were anticipated to help monitor a large city investment in the “Milling Around” public art piece at the top of College Street.
Police personnel have been tooling with the cameras for about 10 months, experimenting with locations and trying to get everything right.
“We wanted to tweak it. It takes a while to get everything set up. We changed camera positions a couple times, just to get things right,” Tilley said. “The first five months they were really operating, we solved or corroborated five different crimes just in the downtown area. Five or six crimes we’ve either solved or gotten evidence from.”
That included the investigation into a supposed shooting, which was reported in one location but actually occurred in another. There was also the two suspects who were wielding BB guns and pointed them at people, only to be captured on video during their assault. Then there was the break-in at Gloria’s, the suspect in which was actually tracked on four different cameras.
All were captured on video, something that would not have happened previously.
While the surveillance is not monitored around the clock, it is web-based and can be accessed by police officers as well as emergency personnel at the 911 Center. The video has proven to be such a valuable tool, it is now part of protocol for investigations.
“What we’ve found is, by reviewing this stuff, it’s been a really big benefit,” said Tilley. “And we’ve done that a lot. Any time we have an incident downtown, that’s the first thing the officer does is come back and check the cameras as part of our protocol. Plus, we keep the cameras up during the day. People will have their cameras up while they’re working in the office.”
With the system being web-based, officers can also pull the real-time camera footage up on their car laptops. The footage is color surveillance, with user capabilities to access the entire six-camera feed or focus a single or select few cameras. The rotation and zoom of any of the cameras can also be manipulated if necessary.
“This works off the Wi-fi system,” the police chief said. “The signal feeds off Wi-fi, and with that the downtown area has free Wi-fi. Our in-car video also works off a wireless feed. So when our cars are downtown, it’s uploading the stuff they’re capturing on the in-car camera. The officers don’t have to do anything. They just ride up to the police station or downtown area. Once he stops his car, and that camera hits the Wi-fi, it automatically starts uploading.”
“It’s all one seamless system.”
Along with the six city-owned cameras, there is another privately-owned one at the Sampson County Partnership for Children, which is also monitored by police.
Tilley said the ultimate goal is to have public participation among business and property owners, along with others. The more cameras there are, the better, he noted.
“This is the start of what we’re doing to educate (the general public),” said Tilley. “We’re working with the Planning Department to put up signs in the downtown area, because we want people to know that there’s video down there. It’s nothing we’re trying to hide. We’re hoping that businesses will see this as a security plus for them. We would encourage them to look at the program to buy into it. Any civilians can buy a camera, and we would be adding to our system.”
Suspect identifications can be made, as the video is clear during both the day and night. The footage also allows for still shots to be taken from the surveillance. Police officers would work with those interested to ensure the camera is in the optimal location.
“It’s a very cool camera system,” Tilley said. “If they wanted it, we would set it so it would be most beneficial to their business.”
On the heels of the purchase of downtown cameras, the city budgeted in-car camera systems for eight of the 16 Clinton Police Department cars as part of the 2012-13 budget.
The in-car systems consist of two cameras in each patrol car, one on the dash and another that is locked in on any suspect in the backseat. The cost was about $5,000 per system. The department reviewed six vendors in making the purchase, narrowing it down to three, which each allowed officers to test drive cameras for about a month back in the fall.
The department ultimately went with Raleigh-based Digital Technologies, and the equipment was installed around the beginning of the year.
“We’re still working the bugs out, and we’re still doing some training on this,” said Tilley.
As with the downtown cameras, the in-car systems do not merely offer video. They offer the location and speed of the patrol car at a given time and, though not real-time, a recording that can be triggered by certain activities.
“There are four ways to activate the sensors that cut the camera on,” Tilley explained. “The officer can reach up and hit the button and cut it on himself; every time he turns his blue light on, it cuts on; we have a speed control, so if he exceeds a certain speed any time, it automatically cuts on; or if he is involved in a collision, the camera cuts on.”
It does not record a complete 12-hour shift, but it starts recording should any of those four instances occur. However, once it is activated, the recording will begin retroactively, starting 30 seconds before the incident. Should an officer activate his blue lights to pull a vehicle over, the recording will start half a minute before the blue lights were even touched.
“Once he hits that blue light, it runs on a 30-second loop,” said Tilley. “As soon as he hits the blue light, or if any of these other sensors cut it on, it automatically starts at the first part of that 30 second loop. So we capture 30 seconds pre-incident.”
Half of the department’s fleet has been equipped with the systems and Tilley hopes, with a good budget year, the remainder can be outfitted in the next budget. Tilley said the positive aspects of video in cars are immense.
“It’s great for us,” said Tilley. “It’s good for officer safety, if something happens. Also, if there is a citizen complaint, we can review the cameras. The other thing we do is review them for training purposes. If we see how an officer is handling himself on a traffic stop, we can address any shortcomings that we might see.”
Similar to the downtown cameras, snapshots can be made during any part of the video for further evaluation or evidence. Field sobriety checks at DWI stops can be administered on camera and officers are able to turn on an accompanying microphone to record conversations with suspects.
“Video is the way of the world for us,” said Tilley. “If we capture the event on video, whether it is a crime or a traffic violation, that’s going to reduce our court time. We’re hoping to see that benefit as we go along.”
Tilley likened patrol vehicles nowadays to airplane cockpits, with a vast amount of equipment within an arm’s reach. The cameras are yet another tool in patrol cars and at officers’ fingertips to assist in serving and protecting the public.
“It’s that extra piece of evidence,” said Officer Matt High, “that extra back-up, knowing it’s there.”
Tilley agreed, and said the relatively inexpensive price tag of improving technology makes it a no-brainer when it comes to the strides that can be made in police work.
“As far as police work goes, that’s been a big boon for us,” he said. “If we can get some kind of video connection to any piece of equipment that we get, we do it. We’re now putting cameras in the cars. Our tasers, when we tase somebody, that’s on video. Now we have (the downtown cameras). It’s just all over. The video world is here to stay.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.