City will turn on cameras around downtown in spring

This spring, the Napa Police Department will turn on a dozen video surveillance cameras downtown, providing 24-hour monitoring of Veterans Memorial Park, Opera House Plaza, the skate park and two parking garages.
Napa is spending $50,000 on a trial program to see how effectively the cameras deter crime and aid investigators once a crime has occurred.
I cant say these cameras will stop crime, but they will help, Napa Police Cmdr. Jeff Troendly said.

As the technology has improves, more cities and businesses are using video cameras to extend the eyes and ears of the police, Troendly said.
Napas new cameras should deter break-ins in the parking garages, thefts at Veterans park and vandalism and drug sales at the skate park, Troendly said.

If police deem the experiment a success, they will install more video cameras, allowing the police dispatch center to monitor every floor of every downtown garage and high-traffic parks elsewhere in town.
The city is installing a passive system. Video images will be continuously recorded, but wont be monitored by police unless an unusual event occurs, Troendly said.

Cameras will alert the dispatch center whenever motion occurs within its field of vision at a time of night when the park or garage is closed to the public, he said.

Patrol officers will be able to call up the images on the computers in their squad cars, allowing them to decide whether to respond, Troendly said.

The intent is to better deploy resources, Officer Aaron Medina said. Police dont have enough officers to patrol all the places where they might be needed, he said.

During his interview, Medinas iPhone buzzed repeatedly. A test camera behind the police station was delivering images of moving vehicles in the police parking lot.

Mayor Jill Techel said the surveillance cameras all of which focus on on city-owned property would give the public a greater sense of security, particularly as more people come downtown for community events, shopping and dining.

Downtown is a low-crime area, Techel said. The new security system will help to keep it that way. I think its a good idea to make us feel safer in the downtown area, she said.

They are definitely a deterrent, Craig Smith, executive director of the Napa Downtown Association. If you know the camera is on, you wont do it.

The city of Davis saw garage vandalism plummet when it installed cameras, Smith said.

Downtown cameras are the latest city effort to use video technology to catch and deter lawbreakers. The city installed two red light cameras at high-accident intersections last year and is adding three more this year.

Surveillance cameras are common in local businesses including Walmart and Target. Vintage High School uses cameras for night security, Troendly said. Many VINE buses monitor passengers with video cameras.

The Avia Hotel and the Napa Valley Opera House have allowed police to mount cameras on their buildings to monitor the Clay Street garage and the citys newest park, Opera House Plaza. Police want to work with businesses to share the cost of future cameras, Troendly said.

The first such partnership will be with Napa Mill on Main Street. Napa Mill is buying high-definition video cameras to monitor outdoor spaces along the river and its surface parking lot.

Napa Mill will provide the cameras, which will be linked to the police dispatch center, Sara Brooks, Napa Mills general manager, said.

Crime has not been a problem, but the completion of the river promenade and the new Fifth Street garage are bringing more people to the area, Brooks said.

When the cameras are put into use, signs will alert the public that they are being recorded, Brooks said. These signs are both a courtesy and a way to maximize deterrence, she said.

Napa Mill may put cameras on the third floor of the Fifth Street garage where employees park, Brooks said. The county uses cameras to protect its vehicles on the fourth floor, she said.

Civil libertarians have criticized surveillance cameras, calling them an infringement to the publics right to privacy.

Napa is aware of the privacy issue, City Attorney Michael Barrett said Thursday. Were not looking in places where the public has a right to privacy. Thats basically what the courts say, he said.

Anyone who enters a city park or garage is in a public space and should not expect the same privacy accorded to private spaces, Barrett said.

The city is placing tight controls on who has access to the video images, which may be stored for a month or more, Troendly said. You dont want to see these things end up on YouTube, he said.

San Francisco, one of Americas most liberal cities, has been using cameras at 68 high-crime locations for the past three years.

When UC Berkeley studied the effectiveness of the San Francisco cameras, investigators determined that thefts dropped, but the cameras had no effect on violent crime.

The number of murders declined close to the cameras, but seemingly shifted to nearby areas out of camera range, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Napa is paying for the cameras from downtown parking fees on businesses and revenue from downtown traffic tickets, Troendly said.

Each camera cost about $4,000, with hardware from Wireless Mobile Data and software from IF Vision Software. Police are using Verizons 3G cell network to relay video to the dispatch center and police cars.
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