CCTV system may be installed at Pittsburgh's Waterfront retail complex

Law enforcement and government authorities from communities surrounding the Waterfront retail complex have a message for would-be criminals:

Get ready for your close-up.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala yesterday hosted a lunchtime presentation of a proposed $100,000 surveillance camera system that would be similar to the "Ring of Steel" network currently planned for the city of Pittsburgh.

Both programs received funding through Homeland Security grants. Mr. Zappala secured a $75,000 grant for the Waterfront system, and officials said they were confident the remaining $25,000 could be obtained through a matching grant request by the Steel Valley Council of Governments.

"This has been my baby, cameras at the Waterfront," said Homestead Mayor Betty Esper.

The system would create a "mesh" of wireless video surveillance, stretching across the 430-acre complex. The Waterfront property is located in Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall.

Digital cameras capable of greater detail than that of traditional analog video would be mounted on buildings and even the AMC Loews Waterfront Theater sign, with an initial focus on the four entrances to the Waterfront.

Eventually, the system could be expanded to include neighboring streets, such as Seventh and Eighth avenues in Homestead.

Not only would the cameras record video, they could be programmed to alert police should they recognize a license plate number previously red-flagged in a database of known offenders.

The software program, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), is not new, but it is vastly improved, said John Hudson, director of technical security for Red Five Security of McLean, Va., the company that would install the system.

The images can be monitored as constant surveillance, or used as backup as incidents occur. Homestead Chief of Police Jeff DeSimone recalled a burglary several years back that involved closing off the area around the Waterfront.

Using the new system in such a situation today, he said, police would have video of the suspect, his direction of flight and the kind of vehicle he's driving, including the license plate number.

With a force of 12 full-time and four part-time officers, the Homestead police can't be everywhere. The proposed system, said Chief DeSimone, is "better than what we have now."

"Right now, we don't know how many wanted cars pass through the community in a day."

Video can be stored for up to three months, at least initially, said Mr. Hudson, who has his own Beaver County-based security firm, J.P. Hudson and Associates.

"There is not necessarily a problem, but a perceived problem [of crime in the area]," said Mr. Zappala as he introduced Mr. Hudson at the Rock Bottom restaurant.

Two shootings last summer -- including the death of a 19-year-old as he was closing up during his job at Damon's restaurant -- are nonetheless a troubling reminder.

"This [system] is something I told [Mr. Zappala] I wanted after the Damon's incident," Ms. Esper said. "This will be a real deterrent to crime."

According to Mr. Zappala, if the matching funds come through, the system can be operational within 90 days.