Cleveland Plans Municipal Surveillance Project

Cleveland wants to beef up security in places where children play, and it's turning to technology for help.

The city plans to spend $200,000 to install as many as 80 surveillance cameras at two city parks and six recreation centers this year. The cameras will monitor playgrounds, swimming pools and basketball courts, as well as hallways outside locker rooms.

City Councilman Ken Johnson wants to go even more high-tech next year and install devices that would scan the faces of anyone entering rec centers.

The scans would be matched with photos on file of parents and children who visit the centers.

The added security is meant to quell growing violence and threats at rec centers.

Two years ago, two youths were shot to death near the Lonnie Burten Recreation Center on East 46th Street.

In January, two young men were hospitalized after being shot in the parking lot at the Fairfax Recreation Center on East 82nd Street after a game of basketball.

Johnson, chairman of council's Parks and Recreation Committee, said parents also worry about sexual predators and other criminals entering recreation centers undetected.

Mayor Frank Jackson budgeted $500,000 this year to station off-duty police officers at 13 of the city's 22 rec centers, but council members say more security is needed.

"We want [kids] to be safe there because they're certainly not safe on the streets," Johnson said.

He said all 20 of his council colleagues have requested security cameras for their recreation centers and parks. Johnson's center on Woodland Avenue is the only one that has cameras indoors and out.

"They're the strongest deterrent," he said. "Nobody wants to be on camera doing something, because there's no way out."

Cities' embracing cameras as crime-fighting tools reflects a national trend. Chicago, for example, uses a network of 2,000 cameras to monitor streets, transit stations and public housing. And Mayor Richard Daley wants to add more.

Daley recently proposed requiring businesses open for more than 12 hours - such as bars and convenience stores - to install surveillance cameras.

Once cameras go up in Cleveland's rec centers, Johnson wants to add the 3-D facial scanners.

The technology is more than 99 percent accurate, according to a representative at Bioscrypt, a Canadian company that sells facial recognition systems.

Ryan Zlockie, a manager with Bioscrypt, said the company's software takes only seconds to scan a face and then match it to one in the computer.

He said government organizations including transit systems in New Jersey and Denver use the technology to ID employees.

Johnson said facial scans sound high-tech for a rec center, but they are the simplest and most reliable way to keep track of who is coming and going.

"The idea is to know who is in the building," said Johnson, whose center in the Buckeye neighborhood bears his name.

Currently, visitors are asked only to sign in at the front desk, and Johnson said people can sneak in or sign false names.

To buy and install Bioscrypt's technology would probably cost $2,500 to $5,500 per recreation center, Zlockie said. That would not include the cost of wiring or other work that might be needed to set up the system, he said.

Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who represents the neighborhood that includes Lonnie Burten, said facial-recognition technology might be a hard sell to the community.

"I think people will be mistrustful of it and how it's going to be used," she said.

Cleveland said she would need to learn more about it to support its use.

"It's kind of space-age to me right now," she said.

LaToya Grayer, whose daughter and son attend the Ken Johnson Recreation Center, said she wouldn't mind a facial recognition system as long as city officials explained to parents how it would work.

"I don't see a problem," she said.