The Vallejo Police Department's 20 public surveillance cameras became fully operational -- individually panning, tilting and zooming on command -- Friday.
And today, a group of about 20 certified volunteer Citizens on Patrol are expected to begin learning how to monitor those camera feeds to spot problem issues.
In a dual effort to bring more resources to the cash- and personnel-strapped department, Vallejo police expect to begin making new use of its volunteers and its cameras, police said.
"Our goal is to be as responsive as possible," police Lt. Jim O'Connell said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we're moving forward."
Just last week, video footage spotted a man shooting a gun in public and then running off down the street. Going back frame-by-frame, police believe they may be able to identify the man, who caused no known injury.
Already, department emergency dispatchers have three overhead widescreen monitors constantly running footage from the cameras. They can pull up past and present footage for specific addresses in response to emergency calls. The latest round of camera installations complements six already installed cameras, reducing monitor lag time and giving increased camera mobility control to operators.
The volunteer monitoring station is still on the horizon, however, police Lt. Jim O'Connell said. First, a volunteer station space must be set up, volunteers must be trained on camera-viewing protocols and schedules must be established. Those same volunteers could also begin returning non-emergency calls to the public, and, later, even begin answering some of them, O'Connell said.
"It's not going to be a panacea of immediate public safety ... (but) it's a start," O'Connell said.
The camera project began a year ago, as the city and police responded to a public outcry over a visible flourishing of street prostitution, particularly along Sonoma Boulevard and adjoining neighborhoods. Funding for the early cameras came partially from the police department's equipment budget and partly from community businessman Buck Kamphausen.
The Vallejo City Council earmarked funding to buy and install the additional 14 cameras in October from a small Target store grant and up to $450,000 from one-time police department surplus funding.
Two years ago, the Vallejo City Attorney's office established city camera surveillance recording and viewing protocols, in response to an as-of-yet-unrealized effort to place city-controlled security cameras around City Park downtown.
The administrative policy states that city-owned video footage shall not "be exploited for purposes of profit or commercial publication," nor record areas where people have reasonable expectation of privacy.
O'Connell said that part of its training includes telling volunteers and staff that despite the cameras' high-tech zooming abilities, surveillance should be limited to public streets and rights of way. The cameras' footage, including what they zoom in on, is recorded for later review as needed, O'Connell said.
Volunteer applications for the Citizens on Patrol program are available online at www.ci.vallejo.ca.us under these tabs: departments, police, volunteer application.
Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @JYVallejo.
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