The busiest intersection in town could be the first in Niagara-on-the-Lake to be equipped with closed-circuit television cameras.
Town staff are currently exploring the installation of CCTV cameras at the intersection of King and Queen Street. Niagara Regional Police have recommended they may be warranted due to the volume of people in the area, and cite a robbery at Simpson’s Pharmacy as another reason they could be helpful. He added surveillance would assist police in investigating crime or a traffic accident, stated an information report prepared by town staff.
Police Services board chair Ken Gansel, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident, suggested at a July council meeting that the Town should consider the installation of CCTV. He was at the meeting with Insp. James McCaffery to provide an update on the challenges presented by horse and carriage protesters and supporters.
A number of municipalities have chosen to install cameras and join the NRP system of surveillance for increased public and community safety, he told councillors, adding there are businesses which also share their video with the NRP system.
“This is a crime-prevention program,” he said, and “an after-the-fact tool for police. It’s a worthwhile project here in Niagara.”
He said he had spoken to Lord Mayor Betty Disero about the cameras before that evening — he thinks they could be helpful in NOTL.
Port Colborne, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines have installed cameras in some areas, and they have been used to catch and charge suspects in criminal acts, he said.
The police install the cameras, and monitor them from a Real Time Operations Centre built as part of the new Niagara Falls headquarters, but the Town would have to pay the $10,000 for the installation of the hardware.
The cameras provide backup for officers on calls, he said. The centre is staffed 24/7, and allows for “real time analysis,” but “it’s not like George Orwell’s 1984,” said Gansel. Officers aren’t watching the video feeds 24/7, but “if they hear something is going down, they can look at the video,” and make decisions on what manpower should be dispatched.
If officers are called to investigate a situation in an area covered by cameras, once they fill out a report the video can be checked as part of the investigation, and taken to the crown attorney if a decision has to be made about laying charges, Gansel said.
Sean Simpson of Simpson’s Pharmacy said there was an armed robbery at the drugstore’s King Street location last fall. A man approached the pharmacist and threatened with a knife, demanding drugs. The pharmacy captured some images of the assailant on video, as did cameras at the Irish Harp beside it, but they were too grainy to be of much use, and as far as he knows, nobody has been charged in the robbery. He couldn’t say whether cameras at the intersection would act as a deterrent — in this situation, “this guy came in from the back. It would depend on the breadth of the program whether the cameras would help. I’m not opposed to the idea of having CCTV. We see lots of examples where it has helped.”
If it could provide some safety downtown and a level of deterrent, he said, it might be worth “that small invasion of privacy.” Disero says “there are a couple of reasons” the town is looking at installing cameras at the corner of King and Queen Street. They were recommended by the NRP “for police purposes,” and could also be beneficial to the town for traffic counting and checking weather conditions,” she said.
Although there isn’t a lot of crime in NOTL, said Gansel, the cameras will record licence plates, and “there aren’t many cars entering the Old Town without passing through that intersection. Tracking the movement of cars can be helpful.” The quality of video is very good, he added.
The information report prepared for council said staff will be following up with the potential location of the cameras and if a heritage permit is required for the installation.
A Main Street Revitalization Fund grant can be used to pay for the hardware, the report said.
Staff will also visit the Real Time Operations Centre in Niagara Falls and will continue conversations with the Niagara Regional Police about the benefits and potential opportunities for this system, the report said.
“If proceeding, council will be further updated and a communications plan for notifying surrounding businesses will be developed.”