Surveillance cameras mounted outside downtown Hazleton businesses will be wired to the Hazleton Police Department, where an officer can monitor activity on a video screen.
Merchants who buy into the system for less than $1,000 will benefit from heightened security, according to officials with the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce’s Downtown Committee and the City of Hazleton, which are facilitating the camera project.
They’ll also be improving the safety of a city that is reeling from a string of murders, including a double homicide caught on a camera like the ones under consideration.
At a meeting of the committee this week, Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi invited Keith Maxwell of Northeast Remote and Surveillance, Slatington, to speak to downtown business owners about the camera system. About two dozen merchants and building owners attended.
Maxwell said each business can rent or purchase a 1.3-megapixel color outdoor camera – with infrared capability for night use – that would be connected to a system at the police department for a one-time cost of $875. They also can buy a four-camera system for inside their business for $2,800, or $79 a month under a 48-month, lease-to-own agreement.
Maxwell said a business can also have one interior camera connected to the system – whether it’s based at the current police department in City Hall or the proposed new department headquarters in the former Security Savings building on Broad Street.
He also said a business can have an existing surveillance system connected to the police department.
“Mayor Yannuzzi came to me with a challenge,” Maxwell said. “He wanted me to develop, economically, a one-camera system that could make out faces, as well as see accident scenes a few blocks away. And it’s got to be capable of being transmitted back to City Hall.”
Maxwell said a main tower would be erected on the downtown’s tallest building, Hayden Tower at the Markle, and the cameras would be mounted about 12 feet off the sidewalk.
“You want to have line of sight,” he said. “If you put the camera up high, you’d only see the section of sidewalk directly below. Being 12 feet off the sidewalk would give you a line of sight for several blocks.”
Yannuzzi said the cameras would be connected to a 65-inch screen that can be divided into 32 windows at City Hall.
One merchant questioned where the cameras would be placed downtown.
“We would have to discuss the locations with the police department,” Yannuzzi said. “They would want them in the ‘hot spots.’ They know the hot spots.”
Maxwell said Mahanoy City is using a 64-camera system he designed.
“They had $10,000 worth of vandalism at their baseball field. Since the cameras were installed, there has been zero vandalism,” he said. “If people know the cameras are up, they are a great deterrent. If a few people get caught, the word gets out quickly.”
Maxwell said the inside system he proposed would have four cameras.
“You could put one on the front door, one on the back door and one on a register,” he said.
Maxwell said he installed a system like that in a tavern.
“They were having theft,” he said. “We put a camera right on the register. Now, there is no more free beer being poured. There is zero theft. One girl who worked at the bar was actually brazen enough to admit she had to take a second job.”
Lackawanna College, a downtown business, already has its own system of 42 interior and exterior cameras. Campus Director Maryann Pindar said the school no longer has problems like it did when it was at a different location where there were no cameras.
“It was always a little dicey coming out (of the school) at night, but not with this system,” she said.
Yannuzzi said police would monitor the cameras, but not watch them constantly. He indicated they would be used to identify people involved in crime after the fact.
Pindar said she would like to see the city system used proactively.
“I’m happy to see the city is taking action,” she said. “I would like to see the system used to prevent crime, rather than for its history.”