OK. It’s nothing to put on the ballot just yet, and no, there are no more parking meters planned to be installed in Downtown Ventura. But maybe, just maybe, Venturans will see surveillance cameras installed in areas of interest throughout the city.
The train trestle, perhaps the pier, and possibly downtown . . .
“We’d like to do this as soon as possible,” said Ventura Assistant Police Chief Quinn Fenwick.
By means of a 2010 Homeland Security grant, the Ventura Police Department has expanded its command center, adding a new work station and several large flat-screens in an attempt to more accurately monitor the city. The department also currently has an active bid out, seeking vendors of surveillance equipment.
Since there is clearly not enough funding for a larger number of police squads to patrol the city 24/7, the cameras, Fennwick explained, are a fiscally sound and modern approach to ensuring public safety. The concept is for officers working in the command center to alert others regarding suspicious behavior seen via surveillance and dispatch fellow officers in the field. For example, the 82 surveillance cameras operated by the Pacific View Mall security have a feed to the command center, where recently an officer witnessed a stabbing and immediately dispatched on-duty police to the scene.
“Using cameras to facilitate policing is not new in the country. We’re trying to build the backbones right now,” said Fenwick. “It makes sense to me as a tool that can be used in the city . . . but I understand it will be a topic of controversy.”
Before the fate of the city surveillance cameras is determined, Fenwick said, the department would seek public engagement on the matter, and the issue would also have to go before the City Council.
“There have been preliminary talks about this,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “Certainly, in tough economic times, there will be more widespread use of cameras, not just in California but around the world. It is a discussion we’re going to have to have. We just haven’t put a timeline on it yet.”
With the installation of surveillance cameras comes the issue of privacy invasion. Though Fenwick said the police department takes privacy seriously and has no intention of challenging privacy rules, some residents see an incriminating snowball effect in the works.
“While it would help police identify criminals, terrorists, etc., the potential for abuse is huge,” said George Miller, a Ventura County Tea Party representative. Miller questioned how long it would take after surveillance installation for license plate and facial recognition software to be omnipresent and directed toward scofflaws, such as delinquent traffic citations.
“I don’t believe that the government should be tracking, logging and storing our movements, which is probably how things would end up,” Miller explained.
Flavio Fiumerodo, vice chair, Ventura County Libertarian Party Central Committee, agrees with Miller. The potential for misuse outweighs the benefits of public surveillance, he said.
“There are better ways to fight crime, such as through more intelligent public policy that doesn’t infringe on our privacy,” said Fiumerodo.
In 2006, the city of Oxnard installed 22 surveillance cameras throughout its central business district and now has 168 cameras, according to Steve Ramirez, senior police officer. There has been a reduction of crime since the initial camera installation, and though Ramirez was hesitant to attribute the crime decrease to the cameras, he said they have definitely been successful tools for the department.
“They’ve allowed us to solve crimes in progress and ones that occurred sometime before, where we can go back and view the video,” said Ramirez. On several occasions, he added, officers in the command center receive calls about crimes being committed, and they are then able to target the perpetrator on camera.
“The responses from business owners and victims of crime have all been positive and thankful,” said Ramirez.