CHATHAM – In March 2014, a local resident suffered serious injuries in a fight during a basketball game at the community center. In reviewing the center's security after the fact, it was discovered that one of the video monitoring cameras in the gym had at some point been hit by a basketball and was out of focus.
The incident “really pointed out some of the limitations of the older system we had,” Park Director Dan Tobin said. Last year, a new closed circuit video security system was installed as part of an $80,000 project to install video monitors at several town buildings.
The new system provides much more comprehensive coverage of the community center's three floors and gymnasium, with 30 cameras trained on just about all of the public spaces, including stairwells, the fitness room, lobby and exterior areas. Staff at the front desk watch in real time on two 32-inch monitors, and have the flexibility of watching thumbnail feeds from all of the cameras or digitally expanding one or more into a larger view.
The cameras are much sharper than the previous system, said building supervisor Brian Deveau.
“You couldn't really pick out a face on the old one,” he said.
The Exacqvision system, supplied by Valley Communication Systems, is “so much better than we had,” Tobin said. Deveau said the old video surveillance system was “like watching ants move around. You couldn't pick out people very well.”
The new system has already showed benefits. One of the exterior cameras picked up a car that stopped at the community center dumpster and left off some mattresses and other material. Officials were able to focus in on the license plate and track down the responsible party. The exterior cameras have motion sensors which will turn them on at any time of the day or night, whether the building is staffed or not, Tobin said.
In another incident, front desk staff were alerted when a woman slipped and broke her arm in the fitness room. While the woman's father was also in the room at the time, there can often be only one person there so it's a safety measure to be able to have front desk staff keep an eye on things. The previous system did not include a camera in the fitness room.
The digital system also makes it easier to review security footage. The previous system required tediously watching tape from midnight forward to find a specific point in time, Tobin said. With the new system, an exact time can be entered and the recording from that point will immediately come up, with the choice of viewing the scene from a single camera or multiple cameras.
The system retains video for 30 days; the period can be expanded if necessary, Tobin said.
Mostly the cameras are there for security, to make both the staff and folks who use the community center feel safe, Tobin said.
“The good thing is we don't have a lot of problems here at the community center,” he said. “But this does allow us to go back and look at situations more easily, and allows proactive supervision by the front desk staff.”
Plans are also in the works to add video monitoring at the new skateboard park at Volunteer Park. Tobin said he didn't foresee any privacy concerns with the expanded surveillance.
“I don't think we're going to get Big Brother everywhere,” he said. “This is just what we can and want to do right now.”