WATERLOO — Police Chief Dan Trelka has asked to hit the “pause button” on a rush to install public safety surveillance cameras in high-crime neighborhoods.
City Council members voted 6-1 Monday to put on hold indefinitely a plan to purchase six more cameras for $25,000.
Trelka said he would prefer more time to make sure the cameras fit into a citywide camera system being developed by Traffic Engineer Mohammad Elahi.
“I’m a huge advocate of the cameras; I want the cameras,” Trelka said. “Mohammad has come up with a very good plan for implementing the public safety cameras, and I feel this (six camera purchase) just may be a Band-Aid for the whole project.”
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The city has been working on fiber optics infrastructure to allow traffic monitoring cameras to be connected to a central monitoring station. The cameras would be used not only to adjust traffic signals based on visual information but also to help solve crimes.
The city of Dubuque uses a similar traffic camera system and has augmented it with additional cameras in neighborhoods and parks, which are strictly for policing purposes.
This system is separate from cameras expected to be installed to issue citations to motorists running red lights. Those would be installed and operated by a private company contracted by the city.
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Councilman Tom Lind, who voted against the delay, won support earlier this year to take $25,000 in bond money from another department’s project and use it to buy six public safety cameras now. But the losing department was never identified, creating friction when the project came up for a vote this summer.
Trelka said he would prefer to wait until the end of the fiscal year next spring to see if there’s money remaining in his budget to cover the camera purchases.
“I don’t want to use a Band-Aid at this point and rob Peter to pay Paul and deny some of our other departments much needed funding,” he said.
Meanwhile, Trelka and Councilman Pat Morrissey have both been looking at Dubuque’s policy governing the location and use of the cameras.
The idea of installing public surveillance systems has raised civil rights issues in some communities, including questions about whether they would be targeted at predominently minority neighborhoods.
“To me, part of doing anything with the cameras needs to … include setting a policy like Dubuque has for the acceptable use of those cameras,” Morrissey said.
Meanwhile, Trelka said the cameras are not a substitute for other policing efforts.
He noted Dubuque has seen its crime rate increase 34 percent since 2009 while Waterloo’s has fallen 24 percent. The Federal Bureau of Investigation now reports the two cities have similar crime rates.
“The cameras aren’t going to be a silver bullet,” Trelka said.