2018-01-25 / Front Page

Surveillance Cameras Keeping Eye on City

By Brooke Constance White

Updated surveillance cameras recently installed in the city’s busiest areas have made it possible for the Newport Police Department to better monitor suspicious activities, track suspects and make the City by the Sea a safer place.

Gone are the days of fuzzy, unrecognizable footage. The 25 new cameras have 1080p high-definition resolution, allowing dispatchers and officers to make out faces and license plates, among other details, said NPD Lt. Kevin Moreira, who’s been highly involved in the camera upgrade process.

“The big thing for us is the safety of the public, and these new cameras give us a much clearer picture so that we can see what’s going on 24/7,” Moreira said, adding that about half of the new cameras have a pan, tilt and zoom function that can be manipulated using a department computer mouse. “Our dispatchers can now operate the cameras and move them around in order to give officers updated [information] in real time before they even arrive at a scene, and tell them which way a suspect went.”

The city council green-lit the project last July in an effort to replace closed-circuit cameras first installed in the early 2000s. In addition to viewing footage live, dispatchers and officers can now play back any recording instantly from the station. According to Moreira, this can help in a variety of situations, including investigations and when the department must determine who is at fault in an accident.

Footage from the old surveillance cameras was harder and sometimes impossible to retrieve after an incident occurred, Moreira said, since officers did not have remote access to the content on the old digital video recorders. The new footage is stored on the city’s server for 30 days then cameras record over themselves.

“Since the new cameras have been installed, we’ve had 22 incidents that we’ve used the cameras for that in some way, shape or form has helped,” Moreira said. “Whether it’s an incident in a crosswalk or helping us to arrest the right person or allowing us to clearly determine whether an accident was truly a hit and run or not, these cameras play a huge role in what we do and how we keep our community safe.”

Mayor Harry Winthrop dispelled ideas of “Big Brother” watching everyone in Newport, saying instead that the objective is safety and ensuring that the busiest parts of Newport are patrolled.

“We have a finite number of people on our police force and they certainly cannot be everywhere at once, so having working, high-quality surveillance cameras in areas where we should have an eye on things helps with policing here in Newport,” he said.

Police departments across the country from San Francisco to Chicago to New York City and Boston, rely heavily on surveillance cameras. And in recent years, smaller U.S. cities have begun implementing the technology with the help of federal grants.

Newport did not apply for nor receive federal funds for its surveillance program. The cameras cost the city approximately $242,000, and are installed on city-owned property in public areas, including Broadway in front of the police station, as well as the Gateway Center, Perrotti Park, Queen Anne’s Square, Thames Street and America’s Cup Boulevard.

Separate from the camera upgrade throughout the city, NPD has also upgraded its internal surveillance system, which was 20 years old and failing, for $125,000. Moreira said the department relies on this camera system for police station safety and has cameras mounted throughout the facility in order to hear and see inmates in the station cells, and record interviews with witnesses and suspects.

Dispatchers can only use the cameras for their intended purpose, Moreira said, and at all times the officer in charge is also viewing what the dispatchers can see. If an incident caught on camera needs to be reviewed, Moreira said currently only supervisors have playback access.

At the moment, every surveillance camera in the city is up and running, aside from the camera at First Beach, which is installed but hasn’t been connected to the system yet due to bad weather. Moreira said that camera should be installed in the next couple of weeks, and the entire project, including the internal surveillance system, will be complete in the next month.

“[The new cameras don’t] cover the whole city by any means, but it certainly helps us should we have to investigate an incident or track a suspect,” he said. “We think surveillance cameras are a valuable tool for us and should offer some comfort to the community, as well, to know that we’re monitoring some of the most heavily traveled parts of Newport in an effort to keep our city safer.”

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