Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police cameras seldom used

City to weigh $460,000-a-year cost of program by April

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Are 10 crime-fighting cameras worth an annual cost of $460,000?

This question will confront a city committee when it decides whether to extend funding for the one-year pilot project that ends in March.

The cameras have helped in some cases. For example, a camera caught the action at Portage Avenue and Edmonton Street last week before a man maced a police officer.

But, overall, the results of the experimental project have been underwhelming.

When the cameras were first proposed, police estimated they would request footage from the 10 cameras about 150 times in a year. So far, they've consulted the cameras only 40 times.

Police initially expected the three cameras shooting core-area Central Park would be particularly valuable, predicting police would use them about 100 times a year. To date, the Central Park cameras have been consulted only five times.

The project's co-ordinator, Patrol Sgt. Dave Dalal, said the unexpectedly low number of police requests for footage is probably because of construction in the Central Park area that diverted foot traffic and criminal activity.

"I would have expected the system to be used more," said Dalal.

There is one camera at Main Street and Henry Avenue, two at Main Street and Sutherland Avenue, two near the Millennium Library, one at Portage Avenue and Carlton Street, and one at Portage Avenue and Edmonton Street.

Central Park's recent lack of foot traffic means it hasn't been a high-crime area, said Dalal.

The park is between Carlton and Edmonton streets and Cumberland and Ellice avenues.

Police initially identified the area as their top hot spot for the project, due to crime patterns and a lack of area businesses that gather surveillance officers can use. There's been ongoing construction there since last spring due to $5.6 million worth of funding to restore the park's attractions, like the Waddell fountain.

"It was a higher-crime-frequency area so I think it would have been irresponsible not to cover it, but timing was not great," said Dalal.

Simon Fraser University Prof. Richard Smith said surveillance cameras simply don't work as a crime-fighting tool.

Extensive studies in the United Kingdom show they may prevent some kinds of property crimes like car break-ins, but they do little to prevent violent crimes. They aren't hugely useful as a prosecution tool, either, and they often push crimes to other areas, he said.

Smith, the director of the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology ,said it would be smarter to hire more police officers who can walk the beat.

"An officer can respond, can help people with directions, can give advice, can maintain a presence in a way that a camera cannot."

In Winnipeg, in about 50 per cent of cases where police requested surveillance, investigators classified the footage as useful in developing their investigations. Two of those cases are related to city homicides, said Dalal.

The cameras use wireless radio to send surveillance footage to the city's communication centre.

Police keep the footage for 72 hours in most cases, and 96 hours on long weekends.

Last week, a young man sent an officer to hospital after he sprayed him with mace because the officer tried to arrest him for drug-dealing in view of a camera nearby. Yesterday, police said they're seeking 21-year-old Stanley Gordon Dorie for assault with a weapon.

The brazen mace attack in full view of a camera doesn't mean they're not working as a deterrent, said Dalal.

He said the cameras have less effect on reducing certain types of violent crime like stabbings or fights due to the "nature of the mind" of those offenders.

"Surveillance cameras tend not to affect serious crimes that are not well planned out," said Dalal.

"It's the crimes like the graffitis, the thefts, the vandalism, that these cameras have a great affect on in terms of reduction."

He said he'll be creating his report on the cameras based on factors like public perceptions of safety, whether calls for service have changed or shifted in areas around the cameras, and whether they help police with investigations and arrests.

Pastor Bill Millar of Knox United Church, which overlooks Central Park, said he wants the cameras to stay in the area.

So did other area workers and residents. Raymond Ngarboui, a 32-year-old Knox volunteer and community volunteer who came to Canada from Chad and now lives near the park, said the cameras make him feel more secure.

He said he'd also like to see more lights installed in the park to help area residents feel safer.

"(Crime) is not the same as it used to be," he said.

Dalal is expected to report on the pilot project to city council's protection and community services committee by April.

He said the cameras are a good tool for investigators.

"Any tool that we can use and are provided funding for, I think is a good thing.

"We've just got to make sure that it's good value for money," he said.

St. James Coun. Scott Fielding, a crime-camera supporter on city council, said he believes the program has been successful and expects police to propose the addition of more locations.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

 

Then and now

WHAT did police expect in the pilot project's first year to aid investigations?

50: Requests for footage from seven cameras outside Central Park

100: Requests for footage from three cameras in Central Park

150: Total requests the entire year

What do they now expect they'll actually receive?

50: Total requests, including about 40 so far

 

Which cameras do police use most to solve crimes?

Main Street and Sutherland Avenue

Portage Avenue and Carlton Street

Portage Avenue and Edmonton Street

 

Caught on camera

Last week, a young man sent an officer to hospital after he sprayed him with mace because the officer tried to arrest him for drug-dealing in view of a camera nearby. Yesterday, police said they're seeking 21-year-old Stanley Gordon Dorie for assault with a weapon.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2010 A3

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