PD Advocates for More Cameras, Tech in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Police Chief Sarah Mooney told city commissioners Tuesday that more surveillance cameras and technology feeding into the real-time crime center helps inform officers in the field.

by Tony Doris, The Palm Beach Post / April 25, 2019
West Palm Beach, Fla. Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

(TNS) — A police officer on the 600 block of Clematis Street, fielding a call to an incident on the 200 block, might have little or no idea what awaits him.

That's the kind of blind spot the city's expansion of its street camera system could fix, Chief Sarah Mooney told city commissioners Monday.

The West Palm Beach city commission unanimously approved Phase 2 of the police department's security camera project, allocating $784,670 for cameras, computers and software to help police respond more effectively to crime hot spots around the city and increase their visibility in the process.

Mooney said the department will get as many as 56 new cameras on Clematis, Rosemary Avenue and along the waterfront, along with the utility poles and electrical connections the cameras require.

During past year the department initiated a real-time crime center, into which its existing cameras feed. By upgrading those cameras and adding dozens more, the department will upgrade its ability to respond, Mooney said.

"In a high-density population, we consistently get calls for service we can't get to right away," but the real-time crime center, with the camera system, can help dispatchers decide whether to get someone to the scene faster, she said.

The city's ShotSpotter system, installed the past year, helps responding officers by pinpointing gunshot locations.

Commissioner Joe Peduzzi asked whether the department had adequate staffing to monitor the cameras and other tech equipment.

Mooney replied the city had "adequate" staffing, a combination of sworn officers and civilian employees, to man cameras and crunch numbers to help with predictive policing, to figure out where crimes are likeliest to occur.

They can pull up views from specific cameras, zoom in, and immediately radio to let officers know what they're getting into or, for example, to tell them which way the suspects went.

What gets installed in the next phases will depend on funding, on how much the department can do at one time, and on what crime statistics and citizens are telling them, she said.

Did the department need its own information technician, Mayor Keith James asked.

"We'd always take one," Mooney replied.

Mooney said Tuesday that every technological link makes police response quicker and safer, especially when neighboring cities have similar technology that ties in, as well.

If police get a ShotSpotter alert, for example, they'll head to the area where shots were fired but if there's no camera in that area, they're going in blind, she said. "If we have a camera affiliated with it, the tech officer can pull it up while the officer's en route and if anything's actively going on, they can tell the officer. If there's a victim on the scene, they know they have to have medics on the scene right away."

In one incident shortly after ShotSpotter was installed, the department tied into technology that another city's department had and got a description of the car. Knowing in what direction it went, police tracked it with cameras and zeroed in on the license plate, Mooney said.

Whether it's a violent crime or a stolen vehicle, having the cameras, ShotSpotter, license plate readers — not just in West Palm but in neighboring cities — helps track the criminals, she said. It's still a work in progress but the more we're able to tie in everybody's technology, it's widening the web."

©2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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