January 22, 2009 in Washington Voices

Cheney eyes street cameras

Council seeks input from residents
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Meeting

The City Council will hold a public hearing regarding the use of cameras in public places Tuesday during its regular council meeting at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Comments will be accepted before the hearing.

Anyone who reads the crime blotter from Cheney knows that many crimes are happening along First Street, usually during the evening.

In order to help police catch those committing crimes in the area, the Cheney Police Department wants to install cameras at the intersection of First and College streets.

“You can’t expect to be anonymous in a public place,” said Chief Jeff Sale.

Sale said the Department of Homeland Security has provided a grant of $69,000 to the city to install the cameras.

If approved by the City Council, the city would join others such as Liberty Lake, Tacoma and Post Falls – a city that posts the feeds of these cameras on its Web site for all to see.

The cameras would be able to record in both directions along First Street from the 200 to the 500 block of the city. Sale said dispatchers in the police station would be able to view the video feed, as well as police officers in their vehicles.

Sale said the cameras won’t necessarily deter crime, but will give police “the ability to catch whoever is committing a crime.”

He added that statistically, over the last three years, crime along the area has gone up. In 2008 there was an estimated $5,200 in damages.

There was also a jump in misdemeanor and felony crimes and a jump in assaults.

The technology of the cameras also allows police to enlarge pieces of the video in order to see faces or license plate numbers of those committing crimes.

Along with the cameras, the police are looking into entering agreements with existing businesses such as banks to allow the police to access video feeds in case of emergencies.

Although the cameras would not cost the city anything, the City Council is split about whether or not this would be a good idea for Cheney and its residents and visitors.

Councilmember Mike McKeehan said that he was uncomfortable with the idea of the city spying on people downtown. He added there is the possibility of abuse.

Another member of the council who is uncomfortable about the cameras is Tom Trulove. He felt that in the world today, Americans have given up many civil liberties and he doesn’t want to give up more.

Teresa Overhauser said she had been looking into video cameras through her work at her day job. She said she found information about Great Britain, a country that has cameras in many public places.

“I have not seen anything to suggest it is a strong deterrent to crime,” she said.

Councilmember Curt Huff was all for the idea.

“In my opinion, I think we should use every piece of technology we should get a hold of,” Huff said.

“If the grant money is there, I think we should do it,” agreed Annette Mather.

But one thing the council agreed on regarding the cameras is starting a dialogue with Cheney residents.

The council will hold a public hearing during its regular council meeting Tuesday. Councilmembers are hoping to get written comments from residents and phone calls to gauge public opinion.

Contact staff writer Lisa Leinberger at 459-5449 or by e-mail at lisal@spokesman.com.


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