More than three dozen sets of electronic eyes will soon be coming to public places across Redmond.
Tuesday night, the City Council approved a plan to ramp up the city's use of video surveillance, voting to install 37 video cameras at 13 parks and city facilities. Eighteen cameras are expected to be installed at six sites this year, with the others coming on line over the next three years.
Reece Security Solutions of Wilsonville was awarded a nearly $120,000 contract to set up the system.
Redmond Police Chief Dave Tarbet, who began developing the plan for additional cameras last spring along with members of the city Public Works Department, said the city hopes the surveillance equipment will deter vandalism and other crime in parks and protect critical infrastructure such as wells and the wastewater treatment plant.
Redmond has had cameras at American Legion Park and Centennial Park since both parks opened, but the new system approved Tuesday night will be a significant upgrade of what's currently in place, Tarbet said.
Unlike the current cameras, the new cameras will be networked, allowing officers or others authorized to view the footage in real time from any Internet-capable device.
Tarbet said the cameras would record five to seven days' worth of footage before they begin recording over older material. Police or other city workers typically visit all of the sites where cameras would be installed every day or two, he said, giving them an opportunity to discover any vandalism and review the recordings before they are overwritten.
Tarbet said the cameras could be a useful tool, but declined to say whether he felt it was the best possible use of the money — the budgeted funds, he said, would not go very far if put into hiring additional officers.
Since 2004, Redmond has spent more than $92,000 repairing vandalism to city-owned properties.
Tarbet said that although the cameras can be used in real time, he expects they will primarily be used to collect evidence following a known act of vandalism or other incident.
“These aren't designed to watch the playground or observe people's behavior; these are designed to protect the property in the park,” he said.
One Redmond resident, Jim Fenton, testified in opposition to the expanded use of cameras. Fenton said he'd prefer the city put up improved gates around public facilities believed to be insecure, or put the funds budgeted for cameras toward an additional police officer.
City Councilor Ed Onimus said he recognizes the “George Orwell, '1984'” concerns some people have about video surveillance, but added such concerns have to be weighed against the identified problem of criminal activity in city parks. Onimus recalled taking a walk in the Dry Canyon recently, where he saw a portable toilet knocked over and a trash can dumped on the ground.
“These are minor things, but for every minute or half hour or hour that one of our employees has to spend cleaning up, putting one of our Porta-Johns upright, that's time that's not being spent doing things that need to be done for the city,” Onimus said.
Tarbet said cameras can deter crimes of opportunity such as vandalism, but in other cases, they may simply move criminal activity elsewhere out of sight of the cameras. He said it's difficult to measure whether cameras in a handful of public places can bring down the overall rate of crime in a community, and research into the effectiveness of cameras is mixed.
“Probably our best hope is, they see a camera, think twice and move along,” he said.
Redmond police make regular use of surveillance footage recorded by private parties, Tarbet said. Stores routinely share footage of shoplifters with the department, he said, and often, an officer will recognize the suspect from a prior police contact.
The city projects the ongoing cost of the camera program will be minimal, aside from a $25 per camera annual fee to keep the software updated.