Some people may complain that “Big Brother is watching,” but the new security camera system in Mahanoy City instead has become a partnership of the public and private sectors.
In fact, that partnership is proving to be a success in a short period of time and continues to grow for safety and security reasons.
The community-wide camera system, rather than an intrusion on privacy, is intended to enhance safety, provide a deterrent to crime, and if a crime occurs in those areas, there is a record of what occurred.
Jean S. Seibert, executive director of the Area Revitalization and Development Corporation (ARDCO), which partnered with the borough on the system, said it is meant to help deter crime and vandalism, along with making residents more secure in public areas.
The wireless cameras and monitoring equipment were set up by Northeast Remote Surveillance and Alarm of Lehighton, with the initial cameras at the Sen. James J. Rhoades Downtown Center, Mahanoy City Borough Hall, and the former McCann School of Business and Technology building. The monitoring computer equipment is located in the police station.
The original funding was a $41,000 state grant ARDCO received from the Department of Community and Economic Development, through the efforts of the late state Sen. James J. Rhoades.
With cameras inside the hallways, council chambers and the outside of the municipal building, Borough Manager Jerry Teter feels very safe in the workplace.
“We’re protected here. The whole concept was to make this a bit more secure,” said Teter, who described the system. Not only the public areas in the building are monitored, there are cameras inside the police station to record interrogations.
“What the police will do there is that they’ll advise the people of their rights and tell them that it’s being taped,” Teter said. “Then it goes into the computer system. There are independent computer systems in most of these settings.”
A large high-definition flat-screen television monitor in the police station provides an overall look of the many cameras operating within the borough.
When Teter was describing it, the screen was set to monitor up to 25 cameras at a time, but it can be set for more cameras (but smaller images), or fewer images to see more detail. One camera can be selected to fill the entire screen for an officer to get a very detailed look at the area if he sees sometime suspicious going on.
“All of these cameras are recording as you go. The recorder holds up to six months of images at a time,” said Teter. “Now, some cameras will only record when there is activity. They’ll shut down, but as soon as there is movement in that area it will start recording.”
Teter showed every side of the municipal building on the monitor. However, he noted the cameras are set up to only monitor the building area and portions of the street and do not show local homes on the monitors.
“Anything that happens here, it’s going to be picked up,” said Teter. “As you can see, these are very general areas. We’re not watching for anybody in particular.”
He also showed the view from cameras monitoring the Mahanoy City Little League field. He pointed to one of the screens showing a portion of the field that is being monitored by the Little League’s security system but being fed wirelessly to the police station. Teter said that location is where 52-year-old Mark Ketusky was murdered. His body was found on Feb. 23.
“If we would have had that camera there, that is where that death took place and we would have seen what went on,” said Teter.
The Mahanoy Area School District is also participating by providing feeds from outside cameras only.
“That goes through their (Mahanoy Area) computer system,” said Teter. “People are volunteering their systems to help us deter crime in their area.”
Police Chief Mark Wiekrykas said the system has been helpful so far. He said that while it may not be as sophisticated as those in Allentown, where someone is monitoring the screens 24 hours a day, the recording capability and the help from local groups and businesses make it a welcome tool.
“These are simply a bunch of security systems through wireless Internet that we’re able to get feeds into here,” said Wiekrykas. “There are still independent systems in all of these places. It’s their security systems where we’re actually able to get a view. Everything is a public view. There is no invasion of privacy.”
He said the camera system has been a help to the police department since the installation began in May.
“We’ve already had some success,” said Wiekrykas.
“It just helps us work smarter,” said Wiekrykas. “We’re still tweaking it, but it’s an awesome system.”
Teter hopes to include borough parks in the system as money becomes available. The new Molly Maguire park does have a security camera.
“It’s about keeping those public areas vandalism free,” said Teter. “It’s your tax dollars that are repairing these parks. The system pays for itself.”