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Cameras coming soon at Southside & Library parks

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POSTED May 11, 2009 2:32 a.m.
High tech cameras and the old-fashioned concept of neighbors looking out for each other is how Manteca Police are planning to step up efforts to make city parks even safer despite the department being 14 positions short due to the budget crisis.

Police Chief Dave Bricker said the city is using federal Community Development Block Grant funds to bridge the financing needed to install remote cameras at both Southside Park and Library Park.

At the same time, Manteca Police are going to breathe new life into Neighborhood Watch Groups.

“Neighborhood Watch never really went away,” Bricker said. “They usually get formed when there are repeated problems and then when it is solved people often stop meeting. In groups that build a (good bond) they will continue to meet and grow stronger.”

One such example is the Colony Park group. Formed originally due to specific problems, it has stayed together over the years keeping an effective eye on the park and even helping keep litter picked up.

Bricker said Public Affairs Officer Rex Osborn is currently working on a strategy to establish more Neighborhood Watch Groups. Osborn can be reached at 239-8441.

The city is moving forward with the camera installation in the early part of the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. The funds are restricted for specific purposes and are grant funds - Citizen’s Option for Public Safety (COPS) Supplemental Law Enforcement Funding and the block grant money - that are being used to install the camera system.

That will allow enforcement to watch both parks 24/7 via the Manteca Police Department dispatch center.

The cameras would be placed high enough and with adequate protection to allow dispatchers to monitor the park unimpeded from police headquarters.

The cameras are expected to help alert police of trouble as well as enhancing the prosecution of individuals who are arrested while being monitored via the cameras.
Southside Park is located just south of downtown at Oak and Park streets. There have been several gang-related incidents in the past year. Library Park in downtown has had continuous issues over the years with alcoholic consumption as well as individuals ‘camping’ in and around the park and library.
“Library Park is becoming more and more kid orientated with the interactive water feature and playground equipment that’s been installed,” Bricker said.
A gang officer could go into dispatch and scan all the parks in 10 minutes that would take him an hour or so to drive around town to check.
The surveillance cameras in parks is an outgrowth of the successful use of three remote cameras to help police the Manteca skate park that is difficult to keep tabs on due to its remote location along the Tidewater Bikeway and away from Center Street.
Problems at the skate park that ran the gamut from weapons being displayed, flashing, graffiti and general bullying have been reduced to a small fraction of what they were prior to the cameras being put in place. The city feeds one image directly to the City of Manteca website so the general public can see what’s going on at the skate park. That image, along with those from two other cameras that can be remotely panned and to zoom in is monitored at the dispatch center.
The end result is quicker detection of problems and the ability to give officers en route detailed and up to date information as viewed by the dispatcher.
The equipment — usually placed high on telephone poles or light standards with clear shots of the area being watched — is durable enough to withstand weather and abuse.
The cameras would be a tool to augment the effectiveness of the city’s 85 sworn police officers. They would also address growing concerns that parks are becoming more susceptible to criminal activity unless police step up patrols.
Targeted patrols will still be done but police have pointed out such a system would effectively allow the department to not only check parks more frequently for trouble but direct responding officers to the troublemakers.
It is also keeping with the police department’s long-held contention that the more eyes and ears helping them do their job through Neighborhood Watch Groups and alert individual citizens, the more effective they can be fighting crime.
In this case, they would be eyes that never sleep. Cameras would be monitored 24/7 at the dispatch center.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com
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