Downtown adds eye in the sky to deter crime

Downtown adds eye in the sky to deter crime

Ready or not, downtown Gilroy, it’s time for your close-up.
Fastened to a traffic signal at the corner of Fifth Street and
Monterey Road is the first of up to six new 360-degree security
cameras intended to help the Gilroy Police Department catch
criminals and ease the minds of residents and business owners
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Today’s breaking news:
Ready or not, downtown Gilroy, it’s time for your close-up.

Fastened to a traffic signal at the corner of Fifth Street and Monterey Road is the first of up to six new 360-degree security cameras intended to help the Gilroy Police Department catch criminals and ease the minds of residents and business owners concerned about safety.

The total cost of the cameras – paid for in tandem by the Downtown Business Association and the City of Gilroy – is expected to reach roughly $50,000, and the GPD is using this first eye in the sky as a test before moving forward.

“We want to make sure (it works) before we pull the trigger and buy five more cameras,” said GPD Sgt. Jim Gillio, who offered downtown stakeholders an inside look at the new system during a recent Problem Oriented Policing meeting. “I really see us getting there within the next few months.”

The system will allow dispatchers in a 24-hour communications room to talk to officers while scanning areas where reported crimes may be in progress with a video-game-like joystick. It will also keep a high-quality, continuous record of what goes on downtown, with files being saved for up to one year, Gillio said.

He said police would be able to search through past incidents during active investigations, potentially finding helpful, clear footage of suspects or vehicles.

The sleek, spherical, black-and-white cameras will dot Monterey Road between Fourth and Sixth streets, an area police have singled out based on months of comments from business owners and residents who say there’s an undeniable perception that downtown is unsafe. The GPD disputes that.

Nevertheless, cameras will monitor the area 24-hours-a-day while officers patrol parts of the city where criminal activity is more likely, GPD Chief Denise Turner said.

“That’s where we spend our proactive time: trying to figure out where a crime was going to happen. That’s why you didn’t see police downtown a lot. The crimes weren’t happening downtown,” Turner said. “We can’t be everywhere, but it’s sure going to keep an eye on our downtown for us.”

There have been 43 crimes committed downtown between January and June of this year, including nine reports of vandalism, eight auto burglaries, seven commercial burglaries, five assaults and five robberies, according to recent statistics released by the GPD.

Of the 43 crimes, 31 were reported on Monterey Road between Fifth and Eighth streets. Not included in the report was a July 26 incident in which a 13-year-old suspect was shot in the hand by a would-be victim during an attempted robbery outside the Garlic City Club on Hornlein Court. That incident will go into the books only as an attempted robbery because nothing was actually stolen, Turner said.

While not all downtown business owners who spoke with the Dispatch believed the cameras would solve downtown’s negative perception, most believed the system was worth a shot.

“Anything to increase safety or perception of safety is a good thing,” said Amber Madrone, owner of Mango Street Kids downtown. “If it leads to arrests, if the community’s aware of it, it has value for downtown.”

Madrone and several others pointed to downtown’s blight issue – unkempt, unoccupied buildings and vandalism – as a roadblock to improving the area.

The cameras should help fix that, said Susan Valenta, president of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

“I really like them. The quality is good,” Valenta said, referring to the system’s ability to cleanly read vehicle license plates and allow its operator to zoom into business windows from several blocks away.

“The benefits are going to make it well worth it to have more installed,” she said. “The bottom line for me: There’s a great loss to the community when a very small percentage violates other people’s property.”

Charlie Clark, owner of Leedo Art & Framing, called the cameras “a good plan,” agreeing that the project could help catch those responsible for downtown vandalism. Aside from finding cigarette butts and “black splotches” of chewing gum stamped into the sidewalk in front of his store, Clark worries about local bar patrons lingering along his storefront.

“People barfing on my tiles. I saw a splat of blood once. I thought somebody got stabbed. It was a mess out there,” Clark said. “The word really needs to get around to folks. Maybe they’ll watch their behavior.”

Some downtown regulars, like Wes’ Shoe Repair owner Jõb Camarena had no idea downtown’s first camera is installed and rolling.

“I never knew it was there,” Camarena said before rushing outside to catch a glimpse of it.

“Well, what do ya know? They probably have it facing my store all the time,” he joked.

Other than hearing about a broken window now and then, Camarena said he didn’t know of much crime downtown. He said he has noticed a recent rise in people visiting downtown bars, which can sometimes mean more problems.

“You’re going to have good people and bad people almost anywhere,” he said. “Or, just add alcohol.”

Dave Peoples, owner of the Nimble Thimble and Garlic City Mercantile, wasn’t quite ready to sing the camera’s praises.

“It may or it may not improve the perception,” Peoples said. “Until they (GPD) start realizing results, it won’t do much for perception.”

For now, the GPD is still working on “little defects” with the initial installation, including resolving what happens each day when roughly 800 people clog downtown’s midday wireless Internet signal, which the camera uses, Gillio said.

“We’re trying to deal with that so that system would have priority over those other things,” he said.

If all goes well, the first six cameras probably won’t be the last.

“The initial project doesn’t include anything in the alleys,” Gillio said. “We’re learning a lot as we go.”

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