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Downtown Police Cameras Delayed Until October

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Photo by Chris-Håvard Berge http://www.flickr.com/photos/chberge/
Surveillance cameras atop the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Like these camera's, APD's system will have powerful zoom capabilities.

The Austin Police Department had planned to install 23 crime surveillance cameras downtown by the end of March this year. But that date has now been pushed back until October, in part because APD wanted to wait for the firm with which it is contracting to upgrade its video surveillance technology.

“It’s like the commercial where the guy buys the 3D TV, and then the truck pulls up with the sign saying, ‘New 4D TV,” Austin police commander Troy Gay told KUT News. “We want to make sure that we’ve got at least the most current of today, so we’re not automatically a year or two obsolete.”When Austin City Council approved funding for the surveillance cameras in January, APD had said it expected to have the downtown cams installed by March.

Commander Gay says the department will launch a 30 to 45 day pilot project by installing cameras around the intersection of Rundberg Ln. and I-35. Those will be installed in conjunction with the launch of APD’s new “real time crime center”. As this KVUE story explains, the real time crime center will have six officers monitoring police radio traffic and video from the new surveillance cameras.

APD is purchasing cameras supplied by the Washington DC-based surveillance firm Avrio, a company specializes in integrating surveillance technology from different companies you’ve probably never heard of before.  One of Avrio’s biggest clients is the Denver Police Department, which is lauded as having one of the most sophisticated police video surveillance systems in the United States. This video shows some of that technology at work.

If you think all this video surveillance has civil rights advocates concerned, you are right.

“The problem with having these cameras is that it turns downtown into a Big Brother area watching everybody and keeping videos of them,” Jim Harrington, director of the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, said.

Harrington doesn’t buy the argument that installing downtown cameras would reduce crime. “It would reduce crime if we didn’t have a requirement of warrants before we went into somebodies house,” he said. “You could have a much more efficient law enforcement system if we had a dictator, but that’s not what democracy’s about.”

Harrington suggests, as an alternative, hiring more police to walk the streets. But that’s unlikely in the immediate future, given that APD is being asked to trim its budget as the city faces a deficit as high as $28 million.  

APD says the video captured by the cameras will be automatically deleted after seven days.

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