College Park to install security cameras in Old Town

By David Hill
The Gazette
Thursday, March 4, 2010

College Park officials and police soon will have another crime-fighting tool at their disposal, thanks to a $500,000 state grant.

The City Council voted 6-2 Feb. 23 to approve a 19-camera security system in the city's Old Town neighborhood, near downtown College Park. The cameras will be set up along College Avenue and Calvert and Knox roads to monitor the area and deter criminals. Easton-based security firm, Avrio RMS Group, could install them as soon as June 1.

"Everyone's very much on board, so I expect the city to move ahead with this," said Councilman Mark Cook (Dist. 3). "We need to make sure that [the cameras are] actually monitored and utilized."

In September, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention awarded the city a $500,000 grant -- through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- to develop a system of closed-circuit television and license plate reader cameras.

The system is expected to include 19 continually recording cameras, three of which would be able to recognize and record vehicle license plate numbers. The University of Maryland, College Park's Department of Public Safety, which normally patrols the area, will monitor the cameras free of charge to the city and would gain access to them from its headquarters and police cars.

The grant is expected to cover the entire cost to install the system, said Avrio RMS Group CEO Mark Jules. He said the city would have to pay for system maintenance each year, which would typically cost 3 to 6 percent of equipment costs, or about $15,000 to $30,000.

Old Town's proximity to downtown establishments and the College Park Metro station has made it one of the city's more common sites for assaults and robberies, said University Police Maj. Jay Gruber. The cameras will provide visual evidence to help investigators, Gruber said.

"Assaults, armed robberies, theft, breaking into people's houses, breaking into cars -- those are the types of things that we're looking for," Gruber said. "From a reaction standpoint, it's very helpful."

Council members Christine Nagle (Dist. 1) and Jack Perry (Dist. 2) voted against the proposal and expressed concern that maintenance costs could be too great.

Other council members were supportive of the plan, although Cook noted that discreetly placed cameras might prove more effective than those posted in plain view. Three camera locations have not yet been determined, as Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich (Dist. 3) expressed concern during a Feb. 16 work session that plans to put six cameras on Knox Road did not provide adequate coverage.

"It's a really well-traveled route," Stullich said. "In the past, when we were having more crime than we are now, a lot of armed robberies were occurring on Knox Road."

The city also plans to make the cameras available to county police, said city Director of Public Services Bob Ryan. The city does not have its own police force, but employs three full-time county officers and a pool of part-time officers. Ryan said the city intends to expand the monitoring system as funding becomes available.

"This is designed to scale into the future," he said. "If we get the money, we can build out citywide, eventually."

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