Metro-East News

Fairview Heights police hope to expand public camera program

Fairview Heights Police telecommunicator Tessa Keys watches three large-screen monitors that show activity at Moody Park, Pleasant Ridge Park, and cameras around the city hall and police station complex. This is a newly-redesigned area for the telecommunicators to work from, secured inside the police department building.
Fairview Heights Police telecommunicator Tessa Keys watches three large-screen monitors that show activity at Moody Park, Pleasant Ridge Park, and cameras around the city hall and police station complex. This is a newly-redesigned area for the telecommunicators to work from, secured inside the police department building. News-Democrat

The Fairview Heights Police Department initiative that’s brought surveillance cameras to two of the town’s parks is part of a larger program that could include placing cameras on street corners and allowing police access to live video feeds from cameras run by businesses and schools.

Lt. Michael Hoguet said the seven cameras stationed in Pleasant Ridge Park and the 11 cameras in Moody Park form the first phase of the program that’s paid for by cash the department has seized in drug busts. Before the first phase is complete, up to six more cameras could be placed in Moody Park.

“When we started doing the research about three years ago, we wanted to design and implement the first phase based on the asset-forfeiture money we do receive,” Hoguet said. “We were able to implement a very good design that gave us the most modern technology.”

The footage captured by the cameras is sent via WiFi to the department, where dispatchers can watch the live feeds. Patrol officers also can access the live feeds via their tablets.

Hoguet said footage is stored for 30 days so that officers can research activity as part of investigations as well as watch the feeds in real time. The cameras will only capture video footage and aren’t capable of listening to conversations.

Dispatchers are not required to watch the live feeds all the time, but Hoguet said if they receive a call from the park, they can watch the feeds and give responding officers more detailed information — information, he said, that officers can use to make any intervention decisions more appropriately.

“The parks are already a very safe environment. We have officers out there that routinely patrol the area. But this is to provide the city residents and visitors to our community a much safer environment than what they already have,” he said.

So far, the department has used about $90,000 in drug money to equip the parks with cameras and install the servers that store the footage at police headquarters. But additional phases of the program already are being implemented.

The department last week announced its premises were available for use as a safe-exchange zone for people who buy and sell items online. As part of that program, the police station’s parking lot is equipped with several cameras that give dispatchers a 360-degree view. By next month, Hoguet said the department hopes to complete installing more cameras around the entire Fairview Heights municipal complex.

Additional phases in the works include working with area businesses to attach cameras to utility poles outside their buildings and even working with those businesses and also area schools to allow police department access to live feeds from inside those sites during emergencies.

Hoguet said he hasn’t experienced any blowback from citizens who may be concerned that the department is invading residents’ privacy.

“(Citizens are responding) very positively because they know it’s a safer environment,” he said.

And it’s not just about keeping an eye on crime. Hoguet said the department also will use footage from the cameras to help investigate traffic crashes. The department could also allow public access to the live feeds to help commuters plan their routes through town.

Elsewhere in the metro-east, police department surveillance camera systems aren’t as extensive.

Collinsville Police Lt. Brett Boerm said aside from the security cameras that monitor that city’s municipal complex, there are no more than eight surveillance cameras downtown. Like in Fairview Heights, Boerm said, Collinsville dispatchers can watch the live feeds from the dispatch center if they want to, but it is not required of them at all times.

In Edwardsville, there are no police-operated surveillance cameras stationed in public at all.

Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keeven said his department has requested funds for a portable surveillance camera system for use during parades, picnics and other large public gatherings be added to the department’s budget.

“We are looking to purchase one of those units,” Keeven said. “(But) a lot of the decisions made regarding public safety come with a price tag.”

One of the portable units, he said, costs around $10,000. But even if the department does get the money needed to purchase the camera system, Keven said it would see temporary — not permanent — use.

“Just for events,” he said. “I don’t see a need to have them on a permanent basis.”

Contact reporter Tobias Wall at twall@bnd.com or 618-239-2501. Follow him on Twitter: @Wall_BND.

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