Buffalo Considers Plan for City Surveillance and Wifi

Mar. 8--WASHINGTON -- Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday carrying a vision of a rewired Buffalo, where high-tech surveillance cameras would keep an eye on landmarks and crime hot spots while transmitting free high-speed Internet access across the city.

Brown discussed his proposal with Western New York's members of Congress and officials at the Department of Homeland Security over the past two days and said he was generally met with a positive reception.

"That's been our number one focus" on the Washington visit, Brown said. "It was our number one item with the delegation, and everyone was intrigued by it."

Brown is seeking $1 million in federal funds for what could eventually be a $5 million project to install up to 45 surveillance cameras at Buffalo's border crossings, tourist attractions and high-crime areas.

The cameras would not only automatically transmit images to the Police Department if anything suspicious happens, but they would also be equipped as WiFi transmitters, beaming a high-speed Internet signal into disadvantaged neighborhoods.

"We'd be starting to bridge the digital gap between the low- and moderate- income parts of the city," Brown said.

The project will begin with a pilot project next month, which will involve five surveillance cameras being placed around the city. The contractor that builds the cameras/WiFi transmitters, Federal Signal, is providing those units to the city at no charge.

Similar surveillance cameras have been installed in crime-prone neighborhoods of Chicago and Washington, D.C., and have proved to be effective in fighting crime, Brown said.

It all sounds like a good idea to Western New York's members of Congress.

"We're going to help the mayor with this," said Rep. Brian Higgins, DBuffalo. "I believe the entire delegation will be responsive."

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, said she was hopeful that the project will work in Buffalo.

"Lord knows we could use it," she said.

But Slaughter noted that Rochester tried a similar high-tech surveillance system several years ago only to meet with some problems.

"It took forever to install," she said, noting that she is waiting for a report on how the system is working now.

In other cities, however, such cameras are equipped with sound sensors that can distinguish the sound of a gunshot from that of a backfiring car -- and can alert police to respond quickly to the gunshot, Slaughter said.

That means the systems can dramatically deter crimes where guns are used, she added.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, said he expects the congressional delegation to fully back Brown's idea if it looks as if it will cut crime in the city.

He added that it was unclear whether funding for the project would come from the Department of Homeland Security or from a direct congressional appropriation.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Buffalo News, N.Y. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.