The Greater Hilltop Area Commission’s Public Safety Committee discussed a possible camera surveillance pilot program at a public meeting held Aug. 14.
Seth Walker, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety for the city of Columbus, said the Sky Watch platform consists of three parts.
The first part will put mobile surveillance cameras at festivals and special events, the second part at recreation centers, which will begin this fall for centers across Columbus.
“That’s not only for the safety of the individuals using them, but obviously for the staff members, too,” said Walker.
The third part of the platform involves the Neighborhood Safety Camera Project, which will invest $1 million for the pilot project to determine if installing surveillance cameras in certain “hot spots,” or high crime areas, will make neighborhood streets any safer.
“They’re not going to be put somewhere the neighborhood didn’t want them. It’s critical that there be neighborhood buy-in from the community in support of this project,” said Walker.
In order to ensure neighborhood backing, the city is going through area commissions for every segment of the city. Each commission would need to vote on whether or not their community wants to be considered.
“We look to the recognized bodies in the neighborhood,” said Walker.
Walker said after the community support is garnered, the city will have the Columbus Division of Police run crime statistics on areas that asked to be considered.
“We have to look at our crime statistics to show what type of crime is occurring in the area and if it is a crime that surveillance cameras can impact,” said Walker.
According to Walker, surveillance cameras have the biggest impact on theft, narcotics trafficking and prostitution.
There is also legal research that has to be done to ensure the city does not run afoul of the law itself.
“It’s to protect the privacy of the citizens of Columbus but it also helps the police because we know our system is sound and will stand up to a challenge,” said Walker.
Walker said criteria for which neighborhood will make the cut will be determined by not only the neighborhood’s desires and the crime statistics but also whether or not the cameras will reduce criminal activity .
“It’s going to be looked at from a number’s driven standpoint,” said Walker.
According to Walker, there is not enough staffing to monitor the cameras continuously.
“They want these to be more forensic rather than having officers sitting in a room watching 20 cameras and see what goes on. These are going to be recorded and if something happens, they’ll be able to have access to make an apprehension,” said Walker.
According to Walker, the number of cameras installed will depend on the area selected based on how many trees are there, how big the trees are and how the streets are laid out.
“If a consultant comes back and says this five-square block area can be done for $1 million in this neighborhood, then that’s the size. If in another area, because maybe all the streets run all the way through and make perfect grid and there’s not a lot of trees, here maybe you can do seven-square blocks for the same amount of money,” said Walker.
Business owner Anthony Carroll said he was also concerned that the cameras would just make criminals more aware of their surroundings.
“No matter where you put the camera your going to have drug deals going on and everybody’s going to be able to see the cameras,” said Carroll.
Walker said in the past, criminals will be careful for a month or so and then go back to doing what they were doing before.
“Either they forget or they just don’t care,” said Walker. “They’ll do a deal right underneath that camera; it’s right there, and they might even have a sign on the pole.”
Walker said he could not give any kind of timeline on when the cameras might start due to numerous factors, such as the legal research, getting the go-ahead from communities and finding a consultant.
Walker agreed to get the crime statistics for the Hilltop area back to the safety committee so they can decide which part of the Hilltop the commission wants to have considered for the pilot.
The committee agreed to send Walker a letter officially letting him know the Hilltop area wanted to be considered for the pilot.
The committee will hold a meeting Aug. 28 to review the crime data from Walker and recommend an area in the Hilltop for the pilot.
Carroll said he was very optimistic about the meeting and said as a business owner, having cameras would greatly improve the neighborhood environment.
“I deal with theft all the time. It would be a tremendous help. I think Hilltop would be a great place to have a business and out of all the neighborhoods, I think we’re prime candidates for this pilot project,” said Carroll.
Dr. Annette E. Jefferson, coordinator for Hilltop Neighborhood Action group, said she was pleased with what she heard but she also wants to wait and see how the pilot plan unfolds. “It seems like a good idea and there’s that aspect of Big Brother watching you, but I think I’d like to see a pilot of it and get an evaluation of the pros and the cons. And of course, I’d like to see it in this neighborhood,” said Jefferson.