Police Eye Possible Camera Use

by Ryan Bray
Orleans Police Chief Scott MacDonald told the select board in May that he envisions a time in the future when cameras and other technology could be put to use by the police department.  FILE PHOTO Orleans Police Chief Scott MacDonald told the select board in May that he envisions a time in the future when cameras and other technology could be put to use by the police department. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Police Chief Scott MacDonald told the select board in May that when it comes to the use of technology in law enforcement, the United Kingdom is a good 10 years ahead of departments in the United States.

“Everything’s on video, everything” he told the board May 22 about how police use cameras overseas.

To that end, how might the Orleans Police Department best put cameras and other technology to use in the future? While he said he doesn’t see cameras as an immediate need for the department, MacDonald said the conversation should start among town officials about how technology can be employed in the future.

“Let’s start the discussion,” he said. “Do we have the framework in place to go in this direction if we chose to do it as a community? And this really has to be a community discussion.”

Much of the discussion locally and nationally about the use of cameras by police focuses on body cameras, small devices that officers wear on their uniforms as a way of documenting incidents and gathering evidence. Orleans police are researching body cameras, but MacDonald said that Orleans is a town relatively low on crime. He said police responded to 40 to 60 break-ins a year when he first joined the department in 1999. Today, those reports are in the “single digits.”

Instead, MacDonald told the select board last month that he saw another way camera technology might be put to use by local police in the future. Like other towns across the Cape, Orleans has its areas where traffic can be a concern, especially during the busy summer months.

“I’m very proud to tell you that we do not have high crime areas in this community,” he said. “But we do have congested areas where video could be helpful in relieving some of the patrol responsibilities of our men and women and then rely more on that technology to assist us in deploying those resources.”

MacDonald said cameras could be deployed at select areas where traffic most presents a problem. Video footage would help police know when and where to allocate resources when problems arise. As an example, he cited the intersection of Old Colony Way and Main Street as one such area where having video might be beneficial.

The cost per camera is estimated to be $3,000, MacDonald told the board, while an additional $1,700 would be needed annually per camera for maintenance. He said the cameras would be mobile, allowing police the flexibility to use them where needed.

“Do I think there is a need for this presently? I do not,” he said. “Again, something I wanted to get on your radar. I wanted our community to hear this so if it’s something we explore in the future we’ll have that foundation built.”

While much of the May 22 discussion focused on traffic, there’s also potential for cameras to address criminal activity when it does occur. Andrea Reed of the select board pointed to the Governor Prence Inn property, where buildings have been tagged and vandalized in recent years.

The benefits of utilizing cameras are many for police, MacDonald said, but officials said there are also other factors that need to be taken into consideration. MacDonald said police need to have legal justification for their use, while concerns also were raised about what additional strain camera use would place on police in the form of increased public records requests, which MacDonald said are already voluminous.

“Nobody gets more public record requests than the police department, I’ll tell you that right now,” he told the board. “It’s nonstop, and some of them are overwhelming.”

But the idea of using cameras to support police work was generally met with support by the board, particularly in the realm of traffic enforcement. Mefford Runyon of the select board said he was interested to see how cameras can support the use of speed tables to slow traffic and other measures police are already taking to ease traffic issues in town.

“I think the idea of having a camera at a busy intersection or a critical traffic place is an easier sell than some of the more surveillance uses that I think are still worth talking about, but are probably a bit harder to get consensus on,” he said.

Select Board Chair Michael Herman said in London, where he lived for five years, cameras are a regular presence.

“I’m for the advancement of technology, definitely,” he said. “I think I’d love to see some analysis brought back to us, starting with traffic first, just to see if this can make things safer.”

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com