Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi and police Chief Robert Ferdinand watched officers on a 65-inch monitor at City Hall as they converged about a block away on the MinSec building to apprehend a man wanted on warrants.
Cameras installed around the MinSec facility sent a live feed to the monitor at City Hall, giving the mayor and chief a birds-eye view of police at work.
Their eyes were glued to the screen as uniformed officers and detectives swarmed from cruisers that pulled onto Spruce Alley Tuesday afternoon. Within minutes, police left the building with a man in handcuffs.
It played out like a scene from the television show COPS.
The images were delivered through an ever-growing video recording system that the city launched with support from private businesses, Yannuzzi said. Cameras began rolling about a month ago when MinSec purchased four at about $975 each.
“It’s working exceptionally well,” Yannuzzi said of the new system.
As of Tuesday, 17 cameras were installed at businesses from throughout the city, the mayor said. Some locations include Luzerne Tire on South Church Street, Vesuvio Restaurant and Bonomo’s Carpet and Floor Covering on North Wyoming Street as well as Career Link on North Laurel.
Merchants bought 10 other cameras that will be added to the system and the city secured a grant from PPL that will be used to buy eight other cameras, the mayor said.
Representatives from MinSec have also boasted their involvement in the program in a recent news release.
“MinSec Hazleton is leading the way in equipping downtown Hazleton with security cameras,” representatives said earlier this week. “The company was the first to install four cameras around Historic Altamont Building, and is home to the main antenna for the citywide system.”
Equipment at the police station can show up to 32 images at once and gives police the ability to select and enlarge one particular feed. The city will eventually expand the monitoring system at city hall to pick up more feeds and has asked Hazleton City Authority if it can install a repeater on one of its water tanks to expand the system to Alter Street and the rest of the city, Yannuzzi said.
“It’s an excellent system for us to be proactive, but it also enhances the overall safety of our residents,” Ferdinand said.
Images captured on camera can be viewed on a monitor at the police station and by merchants who installed the devices on their property. Police also have the ability to see the video from cars. The system can record and store up to 30 days worth of information. It gives police the ability to monitor a scene or situation from their cruisers as they respond or provide 30 days worth of footage that can be crucial for conducting investigations, the chief said.
“It can be used as evidence for descriptions on individuals and vehicles,” the chief said. “We have the ability to go back on it and review.”
Although cameras began capturing footage about a month ago, the city solicited proposals in April for installing the devices. Northeast Surveillance & Alarm was the low bidder and merchants can buy a camera and have it installed for $975.
The city used federal Community Development money to pay for the system at the police station and merchants can apply for loans through the city’s Economic Development office for the cameras.
The police department can view the system from one of its cruisers and merchants can also view footage captured near their businesses, the chief said.
The system will primarily be used for obtaining evidence, such as descriptions of people or vehicles, the chief said. The department’s ability to use it to effectively “monitor” incidents such as drug deals hinges on manpower, the chief said.
“A system like this requires constant monitoring,” the chief said. “If one (officer) is on the desk and another is here completing paperwork, it’s not possible to monitor constantly.”
The chief said he wants the public to be aware that the cameras are operating throughout the city and said that while they will deter crime to a point, they aren’t an absolute deterrent.
“Just because an area is covered by a camera, it doesn’t mean a crime won’t happen there,” the chief said. “On one hand, I like a deterrent and I think the people know they are there. But if you’re thinking about strict deterrents, it’s not.”
Police will also have the ability to monitor camera images from lap tops inside their vehicles. So far, the system is accessible from one cruiser.