Earlier this year, we stood behind the Waterloo plan to employ cameras at several high-crash intersections. The plan was to help ticket traffic offenders, particularly speeders and motorists who run red lights in dangerous traffic areas.
In the interest of public safety, we sided with the implementation of a few cameras.
In a completely separate security camera issue, city leaders have been discussing how to fund and create a program that would place cameras in neighborhoods with high crime rates to help police investigations. This program to deter crime could result in a lot more cameras on the streets – perhaps several hundred.
Any such program will need both cameras and the infrastructure to transmit and save videos in a location accessible to law enforcement.
The city has about six “pole cameras” police can move to criminal hot spots. Councilmen Steve Schmitt and Tom Lind have been pointing to a system like the one in Dubuque, where there are more than 900 cameras throughout the city.
Schmitt said he’s been meeting with city officials in Dubuque and with Mediacom in Waterloo, which might have the fiber cable available to connect a camera network.
“Mediacom has an interest in joining with us,” he said. “But until we know where we’d like to put them, that conversation isn’t going anyplace.”
And it may be some time before it does.
Police Chief Dan Trelka told members of the City Council’s public safety committee that such a network of surveillance cameras could be five years away.
“But that’s my ultimate goal,” he said, “to have several hundred cameras throughout the community that a police officer can simply access (on a computer) with a double-click.”
A little more than a year ago, an article in the Telegraph Herald, which serves the Dubuque area, noted several incidents in which the relatively new camera system helped law enforcement. Speedy arrests of perpetrators involved in some major criminal activity, including a murder case arrest, were made possible by security camera footage.
We will not fault any police department for pushing to use every available tool to fight crime. That’s why they are in place. And we realize there are few things as demoralizing as constant fear within your own neighborhood.
Even so, a network is just a discussion right now.
Earlier this year, Trelka said leaders need to find more money and “proceed cautiously” in determining where cameras would be placed throughout the community.
“We’ve got a strong foundation to build off of already with our fiber optics,” he said in July. “It’s just going to take funding, quite frankly, so it’s up to those that hold the purse strings if you would like to proceed with this.”
So, what’s the financial threshold for human safety, and for neighborhood comfort? We may be finding out over the next few years.
Interim Public Works Director Sandie Greco also has been discussing the situation with Dubuque, while the Traffic Operations Department has been using state and federal traffic grants to install the necessary infrastructure.
“We are not far behind Dubuque,” Greco said. “We don’t have the cameras out there, but we are getting the infrastructure like they have.
“We are doing it the right way,” she added. It’s going to take a little bit longer, but we want to make sure that we’re doing it right so we don’t have to go back in and redo something.”
Of course, there are some red flags. A network of cameras can help catch the bad guys. But they record everything else in the areas they are placed, as well — and we have to remain cognizant of that fact. Where do all the recorded images and action end up? That’s a question that needs to be discussed with the public and spelled out, perhaps even with new regulatory guidelines.
One thing we know for sure: Nearly every industry jumps at any new technology that improves performance. Why should public safety be any different? Indeed, shouldn’t it be a priority?
Police departments will always be limited in their abilities to physically patrol the streets of their communities. There can be no argument there. For the same reasons we supported the traffic safety cameras, we support the premise of public safety cameras in high-crime areas in the city — at least at this juncture. We look forward to plenty of interesting discussions to come.