Cameras help crack cases

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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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

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.


Corrected version

Organizations: RNC, The Telegram, George Street Association

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Recent comments

  • Ashley Fitzpatrick
    May 02, 2012 - 12:10

    For clarification: "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." A correction has been made here. This had previously and incorrectly stated the count had been for the 12 months prior — due to a misunderstanding. The chief had made note of a "two-month gap" in the count, but was referring to the fact the counts were both for 10 months rather than a full year each, and not that one was 10 months where the other was 12. The correction made here will also be noted in tomorrow's edition.

  • Evidence Please
    May 02, 2012 - 11:59

    "In the 12 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." Umm.... These number do not support camera use. For the 12 months prior to the cameras being installated the average # of calls per months was 35.8, the average number of calls per month over the 10 months following installation was 37.7 - that's an increase in the average # of calls per month. "...a number of ongoing cases involve footage from the cameras." How many cases exactly are planning to use the footage? And has the footage ever been thrown out of evidence, if so, for what reasons? This article lacks justification of the money spent on the cameras. It's just a reminder that 'big brother' can watch you, if he decides to put an operator on the camera controls the night you decide to be an idiot.

  • prufock
    May 02, 2012 - 10:27

    At one end of the spectrum we have people like Sparky, who have no problem with random searches of private homes and basic invasion of privacy. On the other end we have alarmists like Devil's Advocate who fear authority like it was the boogeyman and think that the ability to commit a crime without being caught is a "freedom." Most of us reside in the middle. We recognize that your behaviour in public is, you know, PUBLIC. Being observed in public behaviour by a camera is no more intrusive than being observed in public behaviour by a police officer. As long as these cameras and police officers are being used for their intended purpose, I see no problem with having them in public spaces. Private areas are the responsibility of the owners - if they want cameras they can have them, and if they want to invite police officers in they can invite them. However private spaces have rules that must be observed by officers of the law - you must have a warrant or sufficient cause for an immediate search.

  • Morality Police
    May 02, 2012 - 09:58

    One camera is pointed at the doors of the strip clubs. Make you think twice........

  • Sparky
    May 02, 2012 - 09:47

    I for 1,would not mind camera`s everywhere thats known as "trouble spots",then-again,I would`nt care where cameras are placed! The big problem in alot of cities across canada is 'grow-ups',I would`nt mind at the least if acouple of policeman came to my house acouple times ayear & wanted to do a "walk-through",I would gladly let them walk through my home.

  • Carol Ann
    May 02, 2012 - 08:36

    Devil's Advocate - what's up with you? Are you the guy in the back seat who got the last line in the video? Drivers are crazy in St. John's. The only place I can compare the lack of respect for rules of the road was in Spain. Impatant drivers drove like it was a rally race. Steve is talking about trying to cross the street with his children. You are somehow offended by that. Strange attitude. Somehow you feel adults with cars should drive through red lights, be distracted by texting or talking on a cell and speeding excessively. By the way your feedom was earned on the backs of fighting men who died for your right to complain about somone trying to keep children safe. (NO SARCASM, JUST THE FACTS)

    • devil's advocate
      May 02, 2012 - 09:23

      "Are you the guy in the back seat who got the last line in the video?" Don't know what you are referring to. A camera is only good for seeing someone act idiotic after the fact, not preventing the idiotic act. By the way Cameras everywhere is the opposite of freedom, it is more like totalitarianism. Totalitarianism what the fighting men sacrificed themselves to stop (FACT).

  • Lily
    May 02, 2012 - 08:23

    I gotta agree with Steve on this one. I am a strong advocate for Red Light Cameras in this city. The blatant disregard for any form of traffic regulations is shocking. A red light camera wouldn't record your every move, it just snaps a pic of the licence plate if you are in the intersection when the light turns red. No infringement on your privacy there... the city also needs to look at static photo radars in high problem areas like the stretch of Kenmount road between Topsail Rd and Wyatt Blvd. and frankly I believe that the only ones who will have a big problem with this are those who will be receiving the tickets from such cameras.

  • Steve
    May 02, 2012 - 07:36

    Now install some traffic cameras at stop lights and the such. Drivers in this city are insane. Almost everyday I take my young children out we are nearly mowed down by some bozo going thru a red, turning when not supposed to or just speeding excessively. Not to mention all those on cell phones or texting at the time. Cameras may help the police solve crimes but its about time the cameras were put to use to save lives and protect the public. I've NEVER seen a police officer pull someone over for any of the above in this city. If they won't do their job let the cameras do it for them and fine these bozos who are endangering us all.

    • Devil's Advocate
      May 02, 2012 - 08:03

      Yeah! I wish they put cameras everywhere, looking in to our private residences and everything, because we are all in danger don't you know. Just like in London England, where your every move, everywhere is recorded. I will gladly sacrifice all my freedoms and privacy in the name of safety and for the sake of other peoples children (sarcasm). STEVE, my stomach turns when I read comments like yours. If you are that scared of life, do all us private citizens a favor and just stay indoors.