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Cincinnati police aiming for more public cameras

Mar. 04, 2013 @ 02:50 PM

CINCINNATI (AP) — Police in Cincinnati want to add more than 800 surveillance cameras in public places over the next two years to help with crime prevention and emergency response situations.  

The Cincinnati Police Department intends to increase the number of cameras from the current 118 to 1,000 by the end of 2014, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The cameras can be manipulated to turn 360 degrees, tilt and zoom up to more than a half-mile.

Along with helping prevent crime, police say the cameras could assist with crowd control during events and be used to organize emergency responses including situations like one last summer when paramedics had to find a man needing medical help at a festival, said Capt. Jeff Butler, planning, resource and development commander for the police department.

Police also say footage might be used convict criminals. But questions have been raised about the potential costs of more cameras.

“There’s no doubt that all of this technology can be used for good and positive things,” said Gary Daniels, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “The question is whether it’s worth the cost in both money and the erosion of people’s privacy.”

The department is required to keep recordings for 14 days and conduct random checks to make sure cameras are not used inappropriately to spy on private settings, according to police.

The current camera program costs about $4.7 million, with almost all of that paid for with federal grants and donations. While federal grants will mostly pay for the new cameras, police would need to create partnerships with groups that would be willing to share access to existing cameras, Butler said.

Barry Whitton, a computer systems analyst and civilian Cincinnati police employee who has been building the city’s camera program since 2008, said there is “definite value in the fact you have an extra set of automatic eyes.”

Cameras are now used in the Ohio River Basin/Port Security program and in more than a dozen city neighborhoods. More than 30 cameras operate in The Banks development area on Cincinnati’s riverfront, and five cameras came online last week around the new Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, the Enquirer reported.

Cameras that scan license plates also are being tested with the surveillance cameras. Currently, those types of cameras are found mostly on police cruisers.

“We wouldn’t use this for tickets or anything small like that, but when it’s a stolen car, the alert helps us to see what direction it is going,” Butler said.

Other cities in Ohio also are looking to improve their use of surveillance cameras to help fight crime as camera costs fall and technology improves, the Dayton Daily News reported.

The Englewood Police Department in suburban Dayton has been upgrading from analogue to high-definition digital cameras.

“With the new technology, we can see greater distances with greater clarity,” Englewood police Chief Mark Brownfield said.

In Dayton, officials are considering hiring a company to use an aircraft equipped with high-tech cameras for surveillance.