New Minneapoliscameras make thugs go elsewhere
- Article by: MATT McKINNEY , Star Tribune
- Updated: September 25, 2011 - 9:52 PM
Minneapolis residents and police say the mobile units can help deal with problem spots.
The toughs who hang out at "Amen Corner," a notorious spot near Peavey Park in south Minneapolis, are difficult to intimidate, but when a portable Minneapolis police surveillance camera shows up, they melt away.
Imposing as they are effective, a new breed of portable video cameras has popped up in Minneapolis streets and parks. The eight mobile camera units find fans in people like Robert Albee, who as chairman of the Ventura Village neighborhood association has fought to clean up Peavey Park.
"The nefarious sorts who want to do their business anonymously are not too thrilled with them," Albee said.
Amid a wave of new technologies showing up in police stations nationwide, the mobile cameras augment increasingly sophisticated video monitoring, a trend that has helped cut crime rates from Baltimore to Chicago, according to a new report from the Urban Institute. The cameras have drawn complaints from some over privacy concerns, but many in crime-ridden neighborhoods welcome the surveillance.
The new mobile cameras in Minneapolis are mounted on a 30-foot pole that rises from a generator the size of a basement freezer. The whole thing sits on a two-wheeled trailer that the police department pulls around town. Some of the cameras come with powerful lights for illuminating parks or shadowy streets.
"It's not as though we're trying to be covert here," said Lt. Jeff Rugel, who works in the department's Strategic Information Center (SIC), where the city's surveillance network is watched.
The Mobile-Pro brand portable video rigs are connected by Wi-Fi to the city's network. It usually takes less than an hour to deploy one and start sending live feeds, he said. Officers sitting in the SIC watch the video and communicate to street patrols by radio or through the police department computer network, telling street officers what's happening in the moments before they arrive.
The cameras augment the city's existing network of fixed surveillance cameras, which tend to be placed along commercial areas and high-traffic streets.
"They're awesome," said Rugel, who keeps a board in his office that lists the locations of each of the portable cameras. Rugel said the city has had at least one unit since the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007, but had purchased six more this spring. They cost about $29,000 apiece, according to city records.
The portable cameras, more than the fixed ones, seem to make criminals take notice, he said.
"They behave similar to the way they behave if they saw a cop standing on the corner," he said.(my emphasis added -DG)
The combination of video and lights disperses unruly crowds quickly, he said. That helped during the University of Minnesota's Spring Jam, and the cameras have been used at everything from the Uptown Art Fair to the Basilica Block Party and a festival at the LynLake neighborhood this summer, he said.