CCTV equipment downtown paying off: bartender, police chief
Statistics show no dramatic change in the number of calls to police since closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were first installed on George Street a year ago.
That said, bartender April Cooper — on the job at Dooley’s when
The Telegram dropped in Tuesday afternoon — said she has felt a change in recent months on her part of the street.
“I find there’s a lot of change, actually,” she said, explaining it is a feeling of greater control more than anything, a result of word getting around about the police street cameras.
She said she has both seen and heard of people on the street making the extra effort to keep their cool when confrontations arise, simply because they know the cameras are there recording minute by minute.
One of the 12 CCTV cameras being operated by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) in the area is located on a utility pole just across from the George Street entrance to Dooley’s.
Meanwhile, others working in the area, who spoke with The Telegram on condition of anonymity, said they either had not heard much talk about the cameras or were personally in favour of having them, since, as one female restaurant worker said, police insist they help, while “you kind of forget about them.”
There were no complaints relating to the use of the cameras.
RNC chief of police Robert Johnston told reporters he has fielded some complaints, although the majority of feedback has been positive.
“We’ve seen a decrease in calls for service,” he told reporters during a show and tell at the surveillance centre at the annex building across from RNC headquarters. The press event was to mark the one-year anniversary for the cameras on the street.
In the 10 months prior to installation of the cameras, Johnston said, there were 430 calls for police to the area. In the 10 months following the installation of the cameras, there were 377 calls. He acknowledged the counts did not cover the full year before and after, “but I’m very pleased with the numbers that we’ve captured,” he said.
As for court cases, a number of ongoing cases involve footage from the cameras. One, described by Johnston as a “serious assault,” is now before the court. Since the case has yet to be settled one way or another, no details could be provided.
Early statistics aside, the RNC tried to explain how the cameras in the downtown have helped them in uncovering illegal activities. To that end, reporters were shown a video captured during the last year. The nighttime footage shows three people sitting in a car, sniffing back what was suggested to be cocaine. The video is available at www.thetelegram.com.
An operator at the camera controls that night was able to pick up and record potentially identifying details.
“He was able to zoom in and get a plate number. He was also able to zoom in and identify the individuals when they were getting out of the vehicle,” Johnston said following the screening.
The cameras record 24/7 and are generally kept on wide views of the street. In the case of a large event, or a specific investigation, RNC members are stationed at the camera controls.
The recordings are destroyed every 30 days, unless an allegation of criminal activity results in a request for video.
The cameras were installed at a cost of $260,000, covered by the provincial government. Annual upkeep on the system is about $49,000 a year, committed by the province for at least two more years.
“It’s just another investigative tool that we can use to reduce criminal activity and enhance public safety on George Street, and it doesn’t replace boots on the ground, having police officers patrolling in the area,” Johnston said.
A number of members of the George Street Association have been in contact with the RNC about use of footage, in cases relating to vandalism, specifically graffiti, or problem customers, said association rep Seamus O’Keefe.
“We haven’t seen any impact or decline on people attending the George Street Festival or George Street bars,” he said.