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Wilmington, Delaware gets more surveillance cameras

News ArchiveSubmitted by Frontier:

By ADAM TAYLOR
Staff reporter
11/09/2002

The addition of more than a dozen cameras to those already recording people on downtown Wilmington's streets and sidewalks has helped make the city's camera surveillance among the most intensive on the East Coast, experts say.

A private, nonprofit group called Downtown Visions, which works with area businesses to prevent crime there, has installed a total of 25 cameras throughout the 69-square-block area. Eleven of the cameras were activated in April 2001 and the others were turned on about a month ago, Martin P. Hageman, the group's executive director, said Friday.

The second batch of cameras gives the group the ability to view 65 of the 69 blocks, said Dean Vietri, the group's safety director. Downtown Visions also communicates with private businesses that have more than 100 cameras, which gives the group blanket surveillance coverage.

Hageman said he thinks Wilmington is the only city in the country to have its entire downtown district covered by surveillance cameras. The coverage area is bounded roughly by South Park Drive, Adams Street, Walnut Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

A 1999 survey of more than 100 cities with camera programs by the Security Industry Association in Alexandria, Va., showed that most of them are not as advanced as Wilmington's, said the group's executive director, Richard Chace.

Tom Yeager, a vice president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said Wilmington's system is more sophisticated than that city's. There are 64 cameras in Baltimore's 106-block downtown, Yeager said.

"We have big gaps downtown," he said. "And we don't use the types of cameras they do because of potential civil liberties challenges and Big Brother concerns of the public."

In the George Orwell novel "1984," Big Brother is a euphemism used by the government for its monitoring of society. The novel is frequently cited in discussions about whether government intrudes on individual privacy.

In Wilmington, the cameras are used as a tool to help police prevent crime or catch criminals in the act, Hageman said.

"We patrol the streets with joysticks," he said. "The criminals cannot outrun the cameras."

But neither can law-abiding residents, which American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware President Lawrence Hamermesh said is troubling.

"There are no obvious constitutional objections, but the cameras do raise questions about privacy," he said.

Mayor James M. Baker, however, said Big Brother concerns are "garbage."

"Nineteen-eighty-four has already passed," he said. "We have to protect people."

Wilmington's cameras record images around the clock, and are monitored for 16 hours each day by three Downtown Visions employees. The videotapes are kept for 10 to 12 days, unless a crime is detected. In that case, the images are put onto a computer disc and saved indefinitely, Vietri said.

The "pan, tilt and zoom" cameras can view people up to 12 blocks away, Vietri said. A TV monitor in the Wilmington Police Department's dispatch room can receive images from any of the Downtown Visions cameras when workers spot a crime in progress.

Also, the Downtown Visions staff has access to the police computer dispatch system so it can pan in on crimes seconds after they are reported.

The staff has reported 150 incidents that police have investigated since April 2001, Vietri said. Those calls resulted in 32 arrests, he said.

The cameras also have been used 270 times to help police with crimes in progress. Arrests were made in 110 of those incidents.

Police Chief Michael Szczerba said downtown crime decreased in the 18 months the cameras have been used, compared with the previous 18 months. Burglaries are down by 32 percent, vehicle thefts are down 20 percent, and robberies are down 5 percent.

Hageman said he thinks the cameras prevent as much crime as they catch on videotape. Signs are posted on the streets alerting people to the ongoing surveillance.

He gave city officials and others a slide presentation Friday of crimes caught by the cameras in recent months.

The cameras cost $800,000. The city provided $210,000, the state government contributed $150,000 and New Castle County gave $100,000. Private contributions paid for the rest.

Downtown Visions has an annual budget of $1.4 million. It gets its money from payments from the 775 taxable properties in the 69-block area. The group employs about 60 people, including a "Clean and Safe" team of workers who patrol the streets.

Wilmington also has 10 traffic cameras that catch people who run red lights. The police have several surveillance cameras on the East Side, but the city's money crunch has left them mostly unused.

Baker said he would like to make the downtown camera program a citywide initiative.
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Wilmington, Delaware gets more surveillance cameras | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
comment by Otis
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 20 2002 @ 08:51 AM CST
Does anyone know whether or not implementation of public cameras like this actually affects crime rates? Anyone have any numbers?
comment by Tsunamio
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 20 2002 @ 10:31 AM CST
Mayor James M. Baker, however, said Big Brother concerns are \"garbage.\"

\"Nineteen-eighty-four has already passed,\" he said. \"We have to protect people.\"

I\'m glad that nineteen eighty four has passed and we no longer have to concern ourselves with our privacy.