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Police working on surveillance system

The Sacramento Police Department is moving forward with plans to set up security cameras in multiple locations in the city by May 2011. However, the number of cameras the department plans to use and where they will be placed is unclear.

In April 2009, the department announced it would use $615,000 in federal Homeland Security grant funding to purchase a surveillance equipment package. The deadline for the department to buy and put the surveillance equipment into effect is next May, according to department spokesman Konrad von Schoech.

“Equipment has to be purchased and operational by May 2011, but some equipment will be operational before that date,” von Schoech wrote in an e-mail.

The department is making some headway on its plans. The City Council last week decided on a vendor, Southern California-based Absolute Surveillance, for three surveillance trailers. About $245,000 of the Homeland Security grant funding covers  the trailers, according to a Nov. 30 city report. 

“The camera trailer is intended to be used as a mobile video recording system where a permanent camera system is unable or undesirable to be installed,” von Schoech explained. “The deployment is usually for a short duration, just a few weeks of remote monitoring. There will be one surveillance trailer assigned to each substation.”

He further said that the department will use the camera trailers in the areas of the city’s three substations, which are located in the northern, central and southern parts of the city.

The department has some ideas for where it wants to place fixed cameras, but von Schoech said the department is not elaborating on those ideas because they are not final.

“Some locations have been identified, but not finalized,” he said. “The locations were based upon input from the area captains with input from the City Council person’s office in each district, past crime statistics and current crime trends.”

The Sacramento Press asked von Schoech to describe the process for how the locations will be selected. “There are many factors that will determine where the cameras will be placed,” he responded. “Among those factors are crime rates, crime trends, special events and areas that may present a threat to public safety. The fixed cameras will be placed based upon recommendations from City Council, the Police Department, and the availability of existing infrastructure.”

At this point, it is unknown how many fixed cameras the department intends to use. When the department announced the grant in April 2009, it said it wanted 32 security cameras to be part of the surveillance package. The police department’s request to the state for the federal grant funding also mentioned 32 cameras.

But the department is no longer saying it will use 32 cameras. Spokesman von Schoech said that he could not provide a specific number for the cameras, saying that the number will depend on many factors, including cost.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Sacramento maintains its position that the cameras represent a privacy violation. The group protested the department’s plans in 2009. 

“The ACLU wants Americans to have their privacy respected,” said Debra Reiger, chair of the local chapter.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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