REDLANDS - Four surveillance cameras in the historic downtown district have helped Redlands police spot crimes for six years.
Police soon will have 22 more cameras to help keep an eye on the beat.
One donation, three grants - including one from the Department of Homeland Security - and a hefty dose of Redevelopment Agency funds are enabling Redlands to spend nearly $628,000 to beef up its surveillance system.
The improvements come as city officials slash other expenses to narrow a $5 million budget gap.
Police Chief Jim Bueermann calls the camera-surveillance system a "virtual police presence," one that will help the department as its ranks dwindle along with city revenues.
If the Redlands Police Department were fully staffed, there would be 98 sworn police officers, Bueermann said, but 16 of those positions are going unfilled in tough economic times, along with 20 civilian jobs.
The cameras give police extra eyes to spot assaults and fights, burglaries, drunken driving, illegal drug activity, vandalism and other crimes, police say.
Cameras already installed at the airport, as well as at some schools, parks and intersections, have helped police in more than 100 incidents over the past two years.
The camera surveillance has won support from the Downtown Redlands Business Association and the city's Business and Economic Development advisory commission.
Councilman Jerry Bean is the only council member who considers it unwise to tap $252,000 in redevelopment funds to improve the surveillance system.
"I understand some of the arguments for it," Bean said.
But redevelopment funds should go toward fighting blight and more traditional redevelopment efforts, he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Pat Gilbreath said improving surveillance capabilities is a way to leverage policing efforts.
"We need to promote efforts to keep downtown safe," said Councilman Pete Aguilar.
Of nearly 5,000 calls for service in 2007 in and around the downtown area, about 270 were categorized as serious crimes, according to police statistics.
Leverage Information Systems of Woodinville, Wash., was selected to install the new cameras and other equipment, Bueermann said.
Leverage has worked with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other law enforcement agencies.
Cameras will be installed along State Street, Citrus Avenue, Orange Street, Texas Street and at the A.K. Smiley Library and the Redlands Bowl.
Reach Michael Perrault at 951-368-9474 or mperrault@PE.com