Surveillance cameras credited with curbing crime in Toledo, Ohio

Expansion of city's current camera system still undetermined


June 08--Sometimes, when the shooting starts, Amer Algazzawi's corner-store carryout turns into a safe haven -- walls to protect those who are trying to make it through each day without becoming the next face printed on a T-shirt.

There has been an untold number of shootings outside his store at Walnut and North Michigan streets in North Toledo over the past few decades, but he has never considered moving or quitting. In fact, he'd like to expand -- especially now that he feels the notoriously dangerous neighborhood is improving thanks, in part, to a police surveillance camera right outside the Walnut Carry-Out.

"There are less problems in the neighborhood since the camera," Mr. Algazzawi said. "They're shooting less outside. Less fights."

For years, law enforcement agencies across the country have used cameras -- private security and police-provided systems -- to crack cases, including crimes of terrorism. Surveillance video was used after the Boston Marathon bombings last year to identify the two terrorist suspects. More recently, in Pittsburgh, police used video from various locations to catch a man who police allege brutally murdered his neighbors.

Nearly a decade ago, cameras in London, part of a system known as "Ring of Steel," helped solve terrorist subway bombings there. Thousands of cameras allow police to monitor those entering and leaving central London. Cameras also started popping up across New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and were used to investigate a terror-bombing attempt in Times Square in 2010.

Recently, Chicago Transit Authority officials said crime throughout its system was declining after another expansion of camera use.

In the wake of last year's Boston Marathon bombing, Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director Jim Pasco, in comments to Politico, supported the use of cameras in law enforcement. "Technology moves at a warp speed and provides a unique opportunity to enhance public safety in a time when resources are strained and communications and transportations are so sophisticated," Mr. Pasco said.

Collins' position

Still, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins has expressed doubts about Toledo's police-camera system and has not committed to the cameras' future.

Whether the camera system expands beyond its current reach is undetermined, Mayor Collins said. He said he will examine crime data in the fall to look at "actual performance, not anecdotal. Then I can determine the value the cameras really provide."

Police Chief William Moton said the cameras "are an asset" and "a positive attribute to crime fighting" but their effectiveness "remains to be seen."

Mayor Collins, a former Toledo police officer and past president of the police patrolmen's union, has questioned whether money for the cameras should instead go to hiring more officers.

Toledo Police Patrolman's Association President Dan Wagner could not be reached on Friday or Saturday to comment on the camera issue.

The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, which is not affiliated with the TPPA, has not taken a stance on the cameras, but "typically they're a good crime-fighting tool," said Mark Drum, FOP state secretary, legislative chairman, and a former Delaware, Ohio, police officer.

"I think they're a good tool and in many cases they can be a deterrent," Mr. Drum said. "In many more cases, they're a tool to help solve crime."

However, the state president of the FOP says that given a choice of cameras and more officers, officers should come first.

"If you're going to spend a bunch of money, you're better off spending it on police officers," said Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, who is on the Marion, Ohio, police force. Cameras can be a supplement, ""but they're not a replacement for police officers and the good things that live police officers can do," he said.

The police surveillance camera outside of Mr. Algazzawi's store is one of three on Walnut Street, and one of 147 installed around the city; 90 of them are fully operational, and the rest should be working before year's end.

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