Police test blue light cameras for future crime prevention

by Mary Kay Quinn

A video camera at Chestnut and Brecksville roads will be installed by August as part of a pilot project to test the advantages of the security measure.

The “blue light” cameras and associated components were purchased for $6,000 from Paladin Protective Systems of Valley View. There is a blue light mounted above the camera that is visible to the public, especially at night. There are four lenses inside that offer vantage points in all directions and Independence police will monitor the live feed, said Police Chief Robert Butler.

Police officers and community members can offer comments as the city decides whether or not to expand the program. Federal funds covered the camera cost and Butler said more federal funds have been earmarked for two more cameras in 2024 if the city moves forward with the program.
“If it’s benefiting residents and increasing safety, then we will definitely increase it,” Butler said. “We have other locations in mind where we would see it as being effective, but [Chestnut and Brecksville] is a great place to start.”
The intersection was chosen because of its proximity to St. Michael School and area businesses, including banks and a drugstore, according to Butler. Traffic is also constantly busy in this central part of the city.
Councilperson Jim Trakas said he has been advocating for the cameras for two years and called them “an integral part of modern policing.” He views them as a deterrent.

“Criminals know that cameras help police to solve crimes and that they cannot get away with it, so why try?”
The camera would work in conjunction with the city’s 31 Flock license plate reader cameras, which scan license plates and alert police of vehicles reported stolen or tied to a wanted person.
The blue light cameras, on the other hand, give an overall view and can show details about the vehicle and possibly the people inside of it, Butler said. 
One key advantage, he noted, is that the police department has “real time” access to the video footage.
If police believe a gas station or hotel might have video from their cameras that would help solve a crime, there’s often a delay of a couple of days as local clerks seek permission from managers or a corporate office.
The blue light camera footage will be kept for only three days, although if police capture something of interest as part of an investigation, it can be stored indefinitely.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called police security cameras a “privacy sacrifice,” and encourages cities to evaluate the effectiveness of such tools to make sure they are worth the cost and advance the public good.
In Independence, Butler said he will consider public comments. As for privacy or civil rights concerns, He noted that it is public space and only Independence police utilize the video.

Cameras are already in use at Elmwood Park and city buildings, he noted.
“I think Independence residents understand that our department is only looking out for the safety of this community,” Butler said. “We are using this to make sure we continue our strong reputation of safety first.”
Other area cities have such cameras, including Cleveland Heights, where Butler worked for 10 years.
“For schools that they were near, there was much positive feedback from the families,” he said.
Butler suggested Independence hotel operators purchase the same cameras from Paladin and offered to have the police department monitor the footage.
Currently, hotels and other businesses buy their own security systems, which cannot be tied into the police system. Butler urged them to contact the city. ∞

Photo (above): The “blue light” camera is positioned at the intersection of Chestnut and Brecksville roads. Photo courtesy of the Independence Police Department.