June 30--Six young men on skateboards were showing off their skills on the stage at Festival Park late Thursday, jumping as they approached the steps and flipping the boards into the air before they landed on the ground.
In the new Crime Information Center at the Fayetteville Police Department several blocks away, Police Chief Harold Medlock and two other officers, Capt. Lars Paul and Lt. Todd Joyce, were watching them on one of the 10 security video cameras that recently were installed in and around downtown Fayetteville and Festival Park.
The skateboarders weren't engaging in criminal behavior, but they were violating a city ordinance, Medlock said.
"They're not really hurting anybody, but if one of them falls and splits his head open ... " Medlock said.
Paul and Joyce picked up their phones, and each made a call.
Minutes later, a Fayetteville police pickup pulled to the front of the park stage.
The camera continued to scan the area, and when the stage came back into view, the six skateboarders were sitting at the top of the steps as the officer took down their names and information.
Things worked exactly as they should have, Medlock said.
It's what the camera system is designed to do: feed images to a control center where someone is watching what's happening and can dispatch an officer when needed.
The closed-circuit cameras offer a 360-degree view of the area. They also pan and tilt, "so we can zoom in or zoom out," Medlock said.
By next week, he said, some of the eight to 10 work stations in what was a first-floor assembly room at the Police Department will be manned with officers who each will initially spend up to 14 hours a day watching the camera images, Medlock said.
But their jobs will involve more that just checking the monitors.
"They'll be monitoring radios and working on computers," Medlock said. "When a major call goes out, they can run databases to see if there are previous incidents with these people or this location. They can run the name and provide information to the cops who are responding to the call."
The images are viewed on 18 monitors mounted on a wall in front of the work stations. Each camera can be viewed on a monitor or, if necessary, an image can be blown up and projected onto several monitors.
As Medlock spoke, the cameras panned around the locations -- on Person Street near the Greyhound bus station, east and west along Hay Street, at Hay and Rowan streets, Ray and Rowan streets, in Festival Park and on the Festival Park Plaza building.
"Whatever you see is being recorded," Medlock said.
The recordings are held for 10 days and then erased, Medlock said. Some places hold their recordings longer, Medlock said, but he's found after working with a similar system in Charlotte, where he served as deputy chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, that a 30-day hold isn't necessary.
"If someone is walking down Hay Street and goes missing, you don't wait 30 days to report it," Medlock said. "In 10 days, if nothing happens, we'll erase it."
Medlock said the Police Department's plan is to "put cameras on every major thoroughfare in the city."
"The next 18 will go out Person (Street) to Eastern (Boulevard) and back up Grove (Street)," he said.
After that, Medlock said, cameras will be installed on Bragg Boulevard up to the Bonnie Doone neighborhood.
From there, the cameras will go up on Robeson Street and Raeford Road.
Medlock said the network has to be built so the cameras can communicate electronically with one another.
"They have to be next to each other, and we'll spider-web (the network) out," he said.
The locations are determined by the areas that cause police the greatest concern, Medlock said.
"There's a lot of late-night activity on Bragg Boulevard and in Bonnie Doone," he said. "And we want to cover Murchison Road as quickly as we can."
The cameras will be installed as money becomes available, Medlock said.
Five of the cameras already in use were purchased by the Fayetteville Downtown Alliance group, he said, while the others were funded through federal grant money.