I watch and observe in amazement sometimes how things are twisted and distorted in the city of Williamsport. How certain members of city council past and present have their own agendas that certainly do not have the best interest of the city or the general public in mind.
The hard working folks at City Hall and those who provide code enforcement, police and fire service often get caught up in the political game and become victims of undeserved media scrutiny or unjust criticism.
There has been much made about the eleven video surveillance cameras in the city. How much did they cost? Do they work? Why are they located where they are? Why won’t they identify those who dropped the trash in Memorial Park? Most of these questions and criticisms come from City Council folks. So I figured let’s go find out the facts and provide them to you, the reader, to judge.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “I don’t care about the Williamsport problems; I live in another part of the county.” Well you should, usually the problems that the city faces end up being a problem in the surrounding communities. Also, it’s always good to know the facts and understand the workings of government or the political agenda of individuals within our area. It’s good to know the good guys from the bad. We are all in this together, your zip code shouldn’t matter.
Now back to the surveillance cameras and just the facts. Mayor Gabriel Campana secured a $450,000 grant from the Department of Justice. This grant was exclusively for video surveillance, from the camera to the point of viewing the footage captured, hardware and software design and any improvements to the infrastructure of City Hall to house the server and so on. Not as easy as just slapping up some cameras and monitors and viewing the results. You get the picture.
The Mayor enlisted the services of City Council member Skip Smith and Police Chief Greg Foresman. Smith, who has an IT background and is currently heading up Public Safety, took care of the paper work and design, from filing for the grant to writing policy and procedures of operations and specification of the activated network. Without boring you, the Mayor and Mr. Smith were more than thorough and viewed three other systems already in place. No one would have done more research and homework from beginning to end. It took three years to complete the project.
Chief Foresman wrote the policy and procedures on how the good folks in blue would implement and use the systems. It was always intended as a investigative tool of law enforcement along with hopefully a deterrent factor to the criminals.
Easy enough, three professionals doing their jobs. I went through the program these men created and put into action. Most importantly I went and saw for myself what these cameras can do. It is impressive. They have a panoramic view and can zoom in on a tick on a dogs butt at three hundred yards. Bad guys beware!
Here is where the problems occurred. First, City Council, headed then by Gerry Fausnaught and Marlene Whaley, didn’t want the cameras. You heard me right, $450,000 to help fight crime and also be used to evaluate the city in the event of a natural disaster or fire NOT WANTED.
Next, City Council lead by these individuals questioned the infringement of privacy by these cameras. Are you kidding me Bill Hall and other Council Members? Daily actions are recorded from more video points than you will ever know, from the gas station, to the bank, to the businesses downtown. Video cameras have become a part of everyday life. But, when we have a chance to do some good on a grant obtained from the DOJ you Council folks want to play the big brother is watching card. Once you leave your home my friend you are fair game. If you have nothing to hide why would you care? Also, Mr. Hall, your concern over the litterbugs in Memorial Park and why they weren’t caught on camera has a simple answer. Without a date or estimation of when it occurred, how do you expect the footage to be found? You should know the policy and how well these cameras work.
Finally, City Council agreed to the project with one of the stipulations being the cameras could only be placed in city parks. Not in the high crime areas of local neighborhoods. Parks!? Now there is brilliance at work on a City Council level. You are elected officials and this is what you do to protect the good people of our town. Cameras only in parks! I’m sure the crime amongst squirrels has gone down.
Chief Foresman had determined eleven hot spots for installation of the cameras. Some were at Memorial and Flanigan Parks due to the recent violence and drug activity at that time. But, the cameras would have been placed at a location to provide the best footage, at an intersection or a point of high ground to get the best view. Cameras also would have been placed downtown to provide video in the case of a natural disaster, fire or mishap. They could be used to evaluate damage or what emergency personell was needed to respond and what route to take.
It’s simple. City Council accepted a $450,000 DOJ grant for surveillance cameras and did not listen to the Police Chief where they would best be placed. Just so the public knows, several of these members still serve on City Council. The reality of what the cameras are intended for is a high tech investigative and public safety tool that by being present could be a deterrent to crime. The cameras view such a wide area that even if you were watching them you would probably miss the crime if you did not have the exact location. Incidentally, City Council also requested that footage should not be viewed unless a crime had been committed. Again, their concerns over public privacy are more important than identifying criminals.
Surveillance and security cameras are a proven tool of law enforcement. You see cases of this every day on tv, criminals caught on tape. The police use the tape to identify and apprehend the bad guys. The evidence of these cameras is damning and usually leads to a quick conviction by the District Attorney.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the cameras and policy put in place by Mayor Campana, Councilman Smith and Chief Foresman. They did their job.