Eyes On Crime: City Says Police Cameras Can't Be Monitored All The Time

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Tens of thousands of people converge on downtown Columbus for Red, White and BOOM! While they are watching the fireworks, mechanical eyes watch them.

There are currently 42 city crime cameras that help police keep tabs on the crowd during the celebration. Approximately $3.6 million is spent by the city as part of the camera program.

While the city does not reveal specific camera monitoring plans for events like Red, White and BOOM!, Deputy Director of Columbus Public Safety Dan Giangardella revealed information about the day-to-day operations of camera surveillance across Columbus neighborhoods.

“Criminals don't have a tendency to want to be on video,” Giangardella says. “So, we're out there in the neighborhood and very overt about it.”

The cameras have effectively prevented some crime across the area. With the presence of the cameras for Red, White and BOOM!, the watchful eyes make people think twice about their actions surrounding the celebration.

“In most cases, we saw crime reductions in the vicinity of the cameras anywhere from 5 to 40 percent,” Giangardella says.

The largest monitored area with 48 of the 199 cameras near the Livingston Avenue corridor, however, has been an exception. The last crime study the city provided to 10 Investigates shows a 20 percent increase in crime from January to June 2011 - compared to January to June 2012.

It is unknown if people caught on camera are loitering, selling drugs or other illegal exchanges. But Driving Park Civic Association President John Whitten is skeptical of the surveillance.

“It makes me wonder if they're monitoring the cameras at all,” Whitten says.

Whittier Street is a similar story. There are a lot of people who hang out in plain view of the cameras, but they appear unfazed there is a camera watching them outside the mini mart.

While he still gets business, store owner Rafi Yousef also believes he loses it because of the lack of action using the cameras.

“You can't come in the store because it's scary,” Yousef says. “100 percent scary.”

In the wall of the building, there is a bullet hole from a shooting that the cameras failed to prevent.

Giangardella says it is infrequent that someone would dispatch police based on what was seen through a camera from a command center. But, that is mainly because it is not being actively monitored.

“When we announced the program we said is we would monitor them on a 24-hour basis, typically beginning on a Thursday evening through early Sunday morning, which is the height of crime activity in some of these neighborhoods,” Giangardella says.

A summer-time initiative means increased staffing during the week. Restricted duty officers man the Community Safety Initiative Crime Center from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. during the week from May 25 to August 8.

A city staffer who had eyes on the camera on a Monday in June saw someone with what appeared to be a gun. They dispatched officers to take care of the situation.

Residents in the area want to see more of that kind of immediate response.

A source says one group asked if community volunteers could monitor the cameras. However, a city staffer told them that likely would NOT happen.

It is unknown how many times police have been able to stop crime in progress because someone saw something and dispatched.

But, the City of Columbus is looking at integrating the neighborhood camera system into the 911 call center to be able to watch situations and guide officers accordingly.