Once again the issue of video surveillance cameras is dogging City Council.
Not unexpectedly, Police Chief Chuck Harmon wants to put the left over RNC security cameras in benign places to watch traffic and the public in general. City Council on the other hand would like the cameras in some high crime areas where they would actually do some good.
Harmon trotted out all of the excuses he has been using for the last six years. Expensive to install, no one actually be watching them and so on.
I spent a great deal of my last three years with the Police Department working on video surveillance. My team built the first mobile surveillance unit. It was a constant struggle with those who did not want the technology deployed. At one point I was told to stop all work on video surveillance.
Acquiring an armored vehicle was assigned to me I think because they thought we could never get one. Well we did. It took over a year to just paint it and my guess it will sit quietly in some obscure place or hidden away most of the time.
The fact is Harmon and most of the top brass at the Police Department simply do not want these cameras where they may see something the Police department does not want seen. They have the technology to know where the crime is. I know, I deployed it. Why not put the cameras there?
It all goes back to that accountability thing. The last thing Harmon wants is some video record of something he is accountable for like crime and drug dealing.
The argument that the crime will just move was offset this week when Harmon remarked that the new armored video surveillance vehicle can just move if the crime moves. Kind of kills the "crime moving" argument.
The Chief claims they have no one to monitor the cameras, yet they have Communication Center full of people and a unit called the "TRUE UNIT" which consists of light duty police officers both of which could be assigned monitoring duties. They could adopt the Hillsborough County Sheriffs model of using officers partial shifts to monitor high crime areas.
There are residential areas both North and South in St. Pete so infested with drug dealing the neighbors are afraid to come out of their houses. The PD knows where they are and they likely know who the perpetrators are. Why no cameras? I could never get a straight answer to that question.
Mayor Foster was quoted saying "I want the data to drive this," "I do not favor, at this time, the use of this technology in residential areas." For Foster, who is definitely not a wizard of words, that is one of the dumbest things I have heard him say yet. The "data" is there. But the PD will have to be forced to produce it.
Foster has totally consumed the Harmon KoolAid. From the very first staff meeting after the Foster election when the statement by a high ranking staff member was made "we will be educating the Mayor in our way of thinking." Educate him they have. The Mayor has turned out to be all talk and no action when you look at what he promised the voters.
Council must take control and a strong stand or the RNC cameras will be watching places where nothing is likely to happen and that shiny new truck will spend most of its time going to PR events and not looking for the bad guys.
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