Jackson crime cams can view, but not record

Published 5:44 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The camera surveillance system, touted by Mayor Frank Melton as a crime-fighting tool, is still not in full operation.

The cameras are part of the Technical Operations Center, unveiled June 8 with Melton’s police strategies. At the time, city personnel explained the system could record at the push of a button. However, last week, Police Chief Shirlene Anderson said the system can’t record.

Melton said Sunday he had been under the impression that the system was capable of recording. He said the cameras were “off my radar screen” until a reporter from The Clarion-Ledger asked him about it last week. He added that he would take another look at it to see what improvements could be made.

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The Clarion-Ledger filed an open records request June 18 for the first week of video recordings from the system, a listing of possible crimes caught on camera, the police response times and the results of the police responses.

A letter dated June 22 from Senior Deputy City Clerk Connie R. Michael was sent to the newspaper stating that “JPD video recordings are considered confidential and can only be received by way of subpoena.”

Reginald Harrion, a deputy city attorney, later said the letter had been written in error and the recordings could not be provided because they did not exist.

Anderson said the cameras are still an effective tool, event if the system can’t record.

“If we see a crime or something taking place, we can get the officers to get to that location and help stop or apprehend someone committing a crime,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot that we can do, even if it’s not recording.”

She said the system would one day have the ability to record but would not say when.

The camera system has four full-time operators, Anderson said. The system does not run all the time, she said. Anderson would not say how many cameras the department has or when those cameras are running.

The system originated under then-Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and Police Chief Robert Moore’s five-point plan first publicized in April 2003.

The plan called for video surveillance cameras in “strategic locations” throughout downtown Jackson, initially, and in other “hot spots” in the city eventually. The plan also included efforts to place cameras in public facilities such as Union Station on Capitol Street and the Farish Street Entertainment District.

Johnson and Moore have both said the infrastructure of the system was in place before they left office in 2005. Anderson said the system was not operational until recently because of a lack of funds.

The system is being paid for by a $1.3 million federal grant, Anderson said. The city pays the salaries of the operators.