In a Georgia College Town, Cameras Offer Better Picture of Game Crowds

Networked surveillance cameras record antics of revelers in Georgia college football town


ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - A shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of revelers spilled outside the bars in downtown Athens and into the streets last weekend after the Georgia Bulldogs eked out a victory over rival South Carolina. A block away, an anxious crowd testily waited their turn to enter a packed strip club.

Through it all, the tens of thousands who crammed the city were constantly watched by an eye in the sky.

Well, 15 eyes to be exact.

Amid the partying, a newly installed network of 15 cameras constantly transmitted images from downtown Athens to a control center where dispatchers describe for officers what they can't see themselves on the ground.

The $130,000 surveillance system faced its greatest test yet last weekend after tens of thousands of fans flooded the streets and sidewalks of the college town after the key football matchup.

Officers hope the system will come in handy for the crush of visitors that arrive each home game, including the Saturday game against the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Police say the system has so far worked. Officers arrested 48 post-game revelers and issued 313 citations, mostly for alcohol-related violations, but none for major crimes.

"The goal for it is to deter crime and provide an extra set of eyes for police officers in an environment where there's as much as could be going on," said Mayor Heidi Davison.

The cameras are placed strategically at downtown hot spots and are monitored by the police 911 dispatch center. The system was approved by county commissioners a year after a teen was shot to death outside a downtown nightclub after a Georgia home game.

The police keep contact with officials at the control center, who scan the bank of cameras for anything out of the normal.

"We're looking for things that need attention for law enforcement, like a fight about to happen or an unruly crowd," said police Capt. Mike Shockley, "but a lot of it is just trying to determine what the crowds are like."

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Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com

© 2005 Associated Press