NORWICH – Norwich Police are hoping to use some of the federal pandemic relief funding allocated by the city to expand an existing surveillance camera system.
City Manager John Salamone has recommended allocating $750,000 — of about $10 million in funding available under the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA — to purchase several proposed new cameras for parts of Taftville , Norwichtown and the Westside area of the city.
Chief Patrick Daley said police are currently monitoring 29 video feeds sent from cameras located in the Downtown, Greeneville and Westside sections.
“Depending on the cost of the equipment, I would like to see more than 20 cameras placed at key intersections and locations that have historically had a lot of service calls,” he said. “We are also looking to add a license plate reader to the system.”
The location of the cameras – both those in use and any potential additions – depends on their ability to be hooked up to the city’s fiber optic loop, a system maintained by Norwich Public Utilities that rings Norwich and provides high internet access throughput to public buildings.
Inside Daley’s office and inside the police dispatch center are large monitors where every camera feed can be viewed in real time. Authorized users – which include Daley, dispatchers and detectives – have the ability to rotate the white dome cameras and zoom in close enough to read a vehicle’s license plate.
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“If, for example, we’re looking for a suspect’s vehicle, we can find out which direction that vehicle was heading,” Daley said. “And if there’s a civic event, say in (Howard T. Brown) Park, we can monitor it remotely.”
The department introduced the system in 2012 with four cameras and continued to add more devices over the following years. The video, which is available through public recordings requests, is retained for 30 days before being “overwritten” with new stream data.
Many camera feeds have been set up to view high traffic intersections, as well as recreation areas. The streams also captured views of public sidewalks and exteriors of private residences.
Daley said the department’s public camera system policy prohibits using the cameras to look into the windows of homes or other protected spaces.
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“It will be the policy of Norwich Police Service to use the Public Security Camera System (PSCS) only for overt surveillance of public areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” the draft policy reads. . “Use of the PSCS will not invade the privacy of individuals or examine areas that could not be seen by the naked eye from a public area, or in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. “
Daley said each camera comes with a nearby sign alerting passers-by to the presence of the equipment. He said the system had proven to be a crucial investigative tool.
“Years ago we had an incident between a vehicle and a pedestrian child in which we were able to backtrack and see that the child had run between two cars,” he said. “We also witnessed large fights involving more than 50 people and saw suspects dropping weapons into bushes.”
Daley said the system works as a “force multiplier,” allowing police to get an overview of city activity from a single screen.
“We don’t have the capacity to have an officer at all these points 24 hours a day,” he said.
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Daley said the proposed addition of fixed license plate readers would allow police to focus on a specific vehicle and track its progress through sections of the city, similar to a system in place in Hartford.
Inside police headquarters on Wednesday, Andrea Gabor browsed through various feeds displayed on a large screen above her dispatch post.
“We watch this monitor all the time for any incident, car stop or accident,” she said.
Dispatcher Daniel O’Brien, a 22-year veteran of the department, said he has observed structural fires, including a 2014 fire at the former Salvation Army building on Main Street, se unfold gradually.
“I saw firefighters coming through the door,” he said. “This system allows us to track suspects and send the police in and shoot immediately. If there’s a big event going on, like First Fridays, we can watch what’s going on and make sure people are safe.
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Rick Parkes, a part-time employee of The Floor Covering Shop on Central Avenue in Greeneville – located within view of two police cameras hanging from nearby power poles – said he was in favor of extending the system of department oversight.
“The cameras are working,” he said. “A few months ago we had our van stolen right by the business and were able to use our own cameras to see what was going on. We posted a message on Facebook this Friday and Saturday our phone went down. rang from someone who said they found the van.We met the police where he was found and brought him back here.
John Penney can be reached at [email protected] or (860) 857-6965.