Mobile Surveillance Cameras Help Fight Crime in Ohio

Dec. 26, 2012
Break-ins to vehicles parked near Westfield Franklin Park mall have dropped since Toledo police moved portable crime-surveillance cameras to the area.

Break-ins to vehicles parked near Westfield Franklin Park mall have dropped since Toledo police moved portable crime-surveillance cameras to the area, police said.

"Since we've had those up, I don't think we've had one [break-in] over there," said police Sgt. Joe Heffernan. "We were having four or so a day."

The department's two portable cameras were set up just before Black Friday in anticipation of increased holiday shopping traffic. One camera was put in a plaza parking lot across from the Talmadge Road side of the mall, near Joseph's Beverage Center.

That camera has already been moved.

"I don't think it was here long enough to see if it made a difference," said David Joseph as he directed customers to registers on Monday.

Mr. Joseph said officials from the police department asked permission to temporarily "install" the camera in the parking lot, saying they "wanted to make the area safer."

He added that his store doesn't have many problems in the parking lot -- the store has 32 cameras inside and out -- though he didn't mind the added security.

"From a safety factor, I endorse it," he said.

The department is still in the first of two phases of installation. The first phase, which is "nearing completion," plans for 80 cameras in 40 locations. The second phase, which will add 70 to 80 cameras, is to begin in the new year.

A total of $1.6 million was approved for the project.

Sergeant Heffernan said no crimes have been captured on the cameras, but footage has become important in investigations.

In the first week of December, a man robbed the downtown Huntington Bank on Madison Avenue, and then took off running.

Officers in the real-time crime center, housed on the third floor of the downtown Safety Building, were able to pull up the feed from a camera at North Huron Street and Jefferson Avenue to determine which way the suspect ran. From there, they were able to recover some of the suspect's clothing.

Although no one has been charged with that robbery, Sergeant Heffernan said that footage will be helpful to officers -- the cameras have the ability to zoom in 36 times, perhaps giving them a clearer look at the suspect.

Jefferson and Huron is not a high-crime area, but police officials wanted to make sure that destination areas, such as the Huntington Center and Fifth Third Field, were guarded, to encourage continued traffic downtown.

A camera is outside the Mud Hens stadium, at North Huron and Washington Street.

The other cameras were put in places that police have determined to be crime hot spots, many of them, for now, in North Toledo and the central city.

Sergeant Heffernan said the areas where cameras have gone up are experiencing less crime.

"Where we've had the cameras up, most of the crime has disappeared, especially in the areas where we've had high incidents of either theft or disorderly conduct, or loitering and drug sales," the sergeant said.

One of the criticisms of the cameras is that they only displace crime, pushing it to another street corner or neighborhood out of the camera's view.

"I'm sure there's been some displacement, but as you displace crime, the amount of the crime goes down," Sergeant Heffernan said. He reasoned that people loitering or selling drugs on a corner where a camera has been installed won't want to travel far from their base to conduct activities that could get them into trouble if picked up by surveillance.

"You have to continue to monitor the situation, and, if other locations become problem locations, you adjust it appropriately," Sergeant Heffernan said.

Another criticism from residents is that the cameras are too obvious, with flashing blue lights that indicate a camera is feeding footage to the crime center. "We try to make it very obvious," Sergeant Heffernan said. "That's part of it. It's a prevention aspect."

Copyright 2012 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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