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Surveillance cameras coming to Rialto parks [San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.]
[March 30, 2010]

Surveillance cameras coming to Rialto parks [San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.]

(San Bernardino County Sun (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mar. 30--RIALTO -- Say hello to the surveillance cameras coming to a city park near you. They might say "hi" back.

Touting the cameras as an effective deterrent to vandalism and other crimes, the city is using more than $287,000 in federal grant money to purchase the equipment for three of its parks.

The technology allows those monitoring the cameras from a remote location to speak through the cameras to folks in the parks.

Mayor Grace Vargas seemed excited about the technology when she joined three other council members in approving them this month.

"Boy, it's going to be spooky when you start speaking (out of) those cameras and they don't know who is speaking," Vargas said. "That's the greatest thing ever." Councilwoman Deborah Robertson was not present for the vote.

While the goal is to install the cameras at every park in the city, the first three will be Frisbie Park, Rialto Park and Jerry Eaves Park.

"Those are three of our more challenging parks because of the way the parks are laid out," said police Chief Mark Kling. "Officers can drive down the street and not see what's in the park." The cameras will provide real-time images of the parks and give officers a "play-by-play" of criminal activity there, Kling said.

The city could install the cameras within the next 60 to 90 days, he said.

The systems will feature a wireless design and use "vandal-resistant hardware," according to a city staff report.

The cameras will be maintained and monitored through a partnership between the Police Department and the Rialto Unified School District.

The district has surveillance cameras set up on its campuses, with security staff monitoring them 24 hours a day, said Syeda Jafri, district spokeswoman.

"We are basically monitoring (the park cameras) because our infrastructure is already in place," Jafri said.

The district has seen a dramatic drop in vandalism over the past few years because of the cameras, she said.

Kling said the department's apprehension rates have gone up rapidly because of the schools' cameras.

But some say the cameras represent the continued erosion of American freedoms.

"In the case of public video cameras, all evidence shows they have at best marginal public safety benefits that don't justify intrusion into citizens' privacy," said Peter Bibring, a staff attorney at the Southern California office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Bibring pointed to a 2008 study prepared by the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development that was released through the California Research Bureau.

Researchers analyzed the effectiveness of video surveillance along Hollywood Boulevard's "Walk of Fame" and the Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts.

The researchers reported that neither cameras in Jordan Downs nor the section of Hollywood Boulevard had any statistically significant effect in reducing the overall monthly crime rates within the target areas.

The report indicated that the monthly rate of property crimes decreased on Hollywood Boulevard and increased in Jordan Downs, but the results were not statistically significant.

Researchers said the camera systems had no statistically significant effect on monthly arrest rates for misdemeanor "quality of life" infractions in either Jordan Downs or on Hollywood Boulevard.

Kling said he is sensitive to the ACLU's position, but there is no expectation of privacy in a public park.

And the public is looking to government to provide the type of efficient service that surveillance cameras offer, Kling said.

"If it only solves one case, it pays for itself, because that means there is one family, one person that is not going to victimized in Rialto parks," he said.

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