CORNELIUS – The Town of Cornelius is watching, and the aim is to catch crime in action. The Cornelius Police Department recently touted that its camera surveillance will grow to more than 100 cameras in town, from 50 in the last three years, with plans to expand that network.
In the Jan 16. town board meeting, Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle said that a $50,000 investment in 2018 would result in 15 more cameras on the streets.
“That’s on parks, roads, town hall, the police building and other buildings we own and operate,” Hoyle said.
But that’s not the only place they’re looking.
“We are working with businesses to get access to their cameras,” he said. “We are trying to map some of those privately owned cameras as well.”
There are also cameras on several traffic lights that are monitored.
“We’ve gotten into some license plate recognition stuff that generates leads for us,” Hoyle said. The license plate recognition technology helps hone in on the identity of people registered to the vehicles. With normal cameras, it can be tough to positively identify whose car is caught on camera.
“It’s real frustrating sometimes, though,” Hoyle said of cameras without the advanced technology.
“You can get a car going through an intersection but can’t identify the car,” he said. “It enhances the ability to investigate.”
The traffic light cameras are not used to write tickets.
Installing more cameras is an initiative that Cornelius Mayor Woody Washam cited as an improvement in the first meeting of Connecting Cornellius on Feb. 5.
“You’re going to get your picture taken,” Washam said. “They’ve enhanced our ability to catch the crooks,” Washam said.
He said crime has been down since the first major push to get more cameras in place, back before 2015.
The cameras aren’t physically intrusive, but the word “surveillance” does give some people pause.
A casual walk near town hall and up Main Street revealed only a handful of surveillance cameras visible to a passerby.
Washam said the goal of increased surveillance is solely crime prevention.
“As a crime deterrent, they hopefully keep criminals from even coming to Cornelius because if crime is committed, the cameras help provide identification, tag recognition, etc. which can ultimately lead to arrest,” he said.
The videos can be used to track down suspects in robberies or other crimes and to investigate who’s at fault in car accidents or in acts of vandalism.
Washam also said that the town is committed to listening to the needs of law enforcement and looking into dedicating more resources if the police department asks.
Commissioner Dave Gilroy said that anyone with privacy concerns should know the purpose of the cameras is strictly law enforcement.
“Surveillance is not the right word,” Gilroy said. “It’s simply about solving and preventing crime, as well as leveraging technology to reduce the growth of spending in our police department. I’m also convinced that our police department leadership is extremely sensitive to concerns around citizen privacy and unlawful or inappropriate search.”
Moving forward, the goal is to optimize the surveillance the town already has by figuring out where it’s needed most.
“I think we are going to be able to move some cameras around,” Hoyle said. “We’ve got it pretty much covered as far as main thoroughfares.”