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Canton, Ohio, Police Expand Wi-Fiber Surveillance Network

City police officials are sighting the value of the audio/video network over tools like gunshot detection saying that the system allows real-time interactions with officers in the field and enhanced investigative capabilities.

Kelly Byer, The Repository / September 21, 2020
Canton Police Sgt. Craig Riley (right) and Officer Todd Gillilan (center) work with Kathleen Griggs, who works for a partner company, to test the shot detection system. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti) TNS

(TNS) — Wi-Fiber technology has proven more useful to police than the ShotSpotter system it replaced, according to the chief.

"We get a lot more out of cameras and license plate reading than we do out of the shot detection," Chief Jack Angelo said.

The Canton Police Department began using video, audio and license plate surveillance equipment from Maryland-based Wi-Fiber at the start of this year. Officials say the system has aided in the recovery of stolen vehicles, the arrest of people wanted on warrants, and the identification of criminal suspects and their vehicles.

"We've had alerts on stolen cars from the license plates readers, even able to follow the cars on the cameras, and we're able to make arrests without pursuits," Angelo said.

During one traffic stop, he added, the officer monitoring cameras saw a man put a gun under his seat and warned those on scene. Police also have watched protests at a distance for a less visible police presence.

Angelo said Wi-Fiber helped in some major cases, which he would not discuss because "they're still going through the justice system."

THE COST

In 2019, Canton City Council chose not to contract with ShotSpotter for another year of service. ShotSpotter cost the city $148,838 in 2019 and was expected to cost more than $156,000 this year.

So far, the department has spent $275,525 on Wi-Fiber, which includes a roughly $5,000 monthly fee. The department reported paying $13,000 a month for the California-based ShotSpotter system.

"Obviously, the initial cost upfront is the biggest, when you're purchasing all the hardware," said Lt. Dennis Garren about Wi-Fiber. "But once you own the hardware, you actually own it, and it becomes a little more manageable."

Two federal Project Safe Neighborhood grants totaling $47,800 will fund an expansion of cameras, license plate readers and shot-detection devices into southeast Canton, he said.

THE LOCATIONS

The department currently has cameras that pan, tilt and zoom at 23 intersections, providing 41 simultaneous views, according to Lt. Garren. There are three license plate readers and nine shot-detection devices.

Angelo said the Wi-Fiber equipment is in three city "sections" with the southeast soon to become the fourth. More cameras are planned for Tuscarawas Street W.

"Basically, it's spread out across the city," Angelo said, declining to share specific locations. "It's not in a cluster like ShotSpotter was, but we have it in the areas we feel are in need of it, and this technology can be moved."

Locations are chosen based on police data, such as repeat calls to the same place or shots fired. Angelo said the only exception is downtown Canton, where cameras were installed because of easy internet access and the concentration of businesses.

The department also is working with Canton Parks and Recreation to install four cameras at Weis Park. Director Doug Foltz said the $15,000 camera purchase will come from the park budget and an arrangement for the monthly fee was being determined.

Earlier this year, a teenager was injured in an accidental shooting at the park. Last year, a man was accused of attempted abduction, but those charges were later dismissed.

Foltz said he welcomes the added security cameras should provide at Weis Park.

"That's going to be happening here very shortly," he said.

THE OPERATION

Information collected by Wi-Fiber equipment is accessible from the department's Real Time Crime Center, which is staffed by Officer James Dreussi, in the dispatch room.

"The daily routine is to help assist officers on patrol in conjunction with dispatch, providing information," he said.

Dreussi said he uses cameras, where available, to "visually" arrive at a scene before officers. He also provides statistics, such as shots fired, to command staff.

Angelo said that Dreussi has remote access to the information, which can also be accessed by dispatchers and command staff. Audio alerts, in which gunfire is identified by software, are sent to those same people.

"Eventually, that'll be in all the cars, once the licensing and everything is taken care of," Angelo said.

The plan to hire a part-time civilian analyst — so the Real Time Crime Center can be monitored 16 hours a day — was put on hold because of COVID-19 financial concerns. Angelo said the department has hired more officers in recent years and might be able to assign an additional officer, if not a civilian analyst.

"That is something we're going to look at over the next couple months," Angelo said.

The department's focus now is in "problem areas," but the plan is to continue expanding as funds become available.

"Eventually our goal, of course, is to have most all of the city covered," Angelo said.

©2020 The Repository, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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