Salem, Mass. looks to install more cameras

City officials see cameras as a useful tool for police


May 12--SALEM -- More cameras could be on the way.

Although the Police Department just got the go-ahead to boost its surveillance network by six cameras -- an increase of more than 20 percent -- officials are already eyeing more.

Details haven't been worked out yet, but the new cameras could be installed in the South Harbor Garage, at High Street Park and at the Mary Jane Lee Park in the Point neighborhood.

The cameras are seen as a preventive measure, especially in the case of Mary Jane Lee Park, where the city wants to safeguard a $200,000 splash pad that could be built there before the end of the year. The park has previously fallen into disrepair, and concerns have been raised about new amenities being vandalized.

The issue of bringing in new cameras hasn't encountered much controversy; officials and city councilors seem to agree they're a useful tool for police. A frequently cited example is a bicyclist-versus-bus accident on Washington Street that killed a local man in 2012; footage of that incident cleared the bus driver of any wrongdoing.

Mayor Kim Driscoll said that although residents of the Point were skeptical about surveillance cameras when the issue cropped up years ago, many people now seem to welcome them. That mind-set shift has occurred elsewhere in the city, too, she said.

"There is certainly less trepidation," Driscoll said. "It's been much more viewed as a tool to help the police department and to give a level of safety and comfort to residents."

The City Council recently approved the police department's plan to install four new cameras on light poles near the courthouses on Federal Street and at the nearby intersection with Washington Street. Two other cameras were approved for Washington Street between Essex and Lynde streets.

The cameras range in price, but police Chief Paul Tucker said that overall they're dropping. The four cameras outside the judicial center will cost a total of about $75,000 to buy and install -- the district attorney will cover $50,000 of it -- for an average cost of nearly $19,000 each. The two cameras on Washington Street will cost a total of about $14,000 to buy and install.

Installing nine new cameras -- six already approved and three proposed -- would increase the number of city-owned surveillance cameras in Salem from 29 to 38.

Interestingly, there is already a camera at High Street Park -- it snaps a series of still photos whenever it senses movement -- but the city wants to bring in a higher-quality model.

At the same time it approved the cameras, the City Council OK'd relocating related equipment from smokestacks at Salem Harbor Station. That equipment -- a "microwave array" -- routes footage from 14 cameras around the city to the police department. Since Footprint Power plans to demolish the plant, it needs to be moved.

Police had planned to put the equipment on the Salem-Beverly bridge, but that fell through. Instead, it will be divvied up, with portions spread among four new locations: Bentley Elementary School, light poles outside Bill and Bob's Roast Beef on Bridge Street, light poles on Kernwood Street and the public housing development at 27 Charter St., said Capt. Mark Losolfo.

The equipment's new locations needed to have a line of sight with the cameras that would feed it.

Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.