A Little Community Takes Page from Big Cities to Battle Crime

For towns with small police budgets, cameras offer extra eyes

"If your wife doesn't want you sitting at the bar so much, then maybe you shouldn't do it," is what Ziegler said he told them. That remark did not go down well with some, which apparently led to the protest pants-dropping episode.

Over time, though, Ziegler, Platz and others say people have grown accustomed to the stationary cameras, partly because they are aimed at the streets and do not record anyone going into Tom & Jerry's or the legion hall.

Sheriff Rick Morris, in Redwood Falls, said he stopped hearing complaints about crime in Sanborn shortly after the cameras were installed. "It was like 'kaboom.' The complaints quit," Morris said.

But are the cameras making any difference? It's debatable in terms of measurable crime. Shortly after the cameras went up, someone broke into the lumber company and stole the safe. The opened safe was recovered in Iowa but authorities never nabbed the thieves, despite catching a look at the pickup truck on the camera.

For many, the perception of security cameras is Orwellian, dominated by some faceless Big Brother watching your every move. That is not the reality in Sanborn, where the video is streamed to a 15-inch TV set on a kitchen countertop in Trebesch's small office, right next to a Paul Newman spaghetti sauce poster. The screen is divided into nine squares, each reporting in mind-numbing accuracy what is happening on the streets. The images are recorded and kept for seven days.

Trebesch hates it. In fact, the set is usually turned off. "I can't watch it," she said

If something happens, they'll run through the digital images and then call the sheriff, who also has access to the video feed. Then, theoretically, the chase is on.

Morris said it's too soon to conclude that cameras are the answer for cash-strapped towns searching for law and order.

"It's a pair of eyes, if you need 'em," said Sanborn Mayor and retired police officer Charlie Hosack, as a group of senior citizens played pinochle outside Trebesch's office.

"But we've only had to check it a couple of times," Hosack added.

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.