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February 27, 2013

Southfield beefs up parks security with new cameras

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
To deter vandalism and enhance park security, Southfield City Council approved Parks and Recreation to install flash cams at various parks throughout the city. This photo shows the playscape at Inglenook Park tagged by graffiti.

SOUTHFIELD — City Council has approved the Parks and Recreation Department’s request to install security cameras throughout some of its parks. The idea behind the cameras, according to Parks and Operations Supervisor Bob Murray, is to not just catch criminal acts like vandalism, graffiti and trespassing, but to deter them.

“We have a commitment to the people, to the city, as well as to the taxpayers, in terms of avoiding property damage,” he told council during a Feb. 11 study session. “I’m very excited about this product because it is truly avoidance in crime prevention, rather than just catching people in the act.”

The cameras will come from Q Star Technology’s Flash Cam Crime Deterrent System, selected by Southfield officials for its unique features. The cameras are solar, portable, high-resolution, motion-activated and talking devices.

Tom Vargo, a regional account representative from Q Star Technology, provided a demonstration to council members at the meeting.

“Thank you for visiting Inglenook Park. The park is now closed. City of Southfield parks are open from dawn to dusk,” the activated device reported in the “show and tell.”

A murmur of amusement came from listeners as the small, 16-gauge steel, battery-powered unit sounded off.

“What makes this unique is that we have a voice built in. It’s fully customizable. That was a sample message,” Vargo explained, adding that the 16 megapixel camera takes still images in jpeg form that can be passed on to the Police Department for investigation when needed. “We want to be proactive in assisting your community in trying to prevent kids from doing what they are going to do, or whoever is doing these types of issues.”

Murray noted that seven cameras will be purchased, to begin with — two for Inglenook Park, as well as one camera each at Stratford Woods Commons, Bedford Woods Park, Pebble Creek Park, Simms Park and Miller Park — because they are the parks with the most incidents of vandalism and graffiti.

Vargo said the systems have a 85-100 percent success rate in the areas where they are used around the country, including warding off litterers, trespassers and others with the flash of the camera.

“The goal here is deterrence. We want to change the mindset of these folks before they do what they do,” he said. 

To pay for the $41,491.75 security camera purchase, council needed to authorize the department to accept a Risk Avoidance Program Grant from the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority that was offered in the amount of $20,745. The remaining $20,746.75 will come from the Parks and Recreation 2012-2013 budget land improvement account, according to Murray.

During the meeting, Councilman Jeremy Moss noted that the installation should be strategic as to not disturb nearby neighborhoods with the volume or flash, especially if wildlife activates the camera.

Mayor Brenda Lawrence said she thinks it is a great product and opens up possibilities for parks amenities, though she echoed a similar sentiment about disturbing the residential area. She also added that installing signs that note the area is “under surveillance” would help further deter crime.

Councilwoman Sylvia Jordan asked about life expectancy of the cameras and shifting technology.

Vargo explained that the average unit life is about 10 years and that the company offers a 50 percent credit if technology changes enough that it warrants an upgrade.

One of the noted inconveniences of the system was that, in order to retrieve the images the flash cam will snap, they must be downloaded once every week or so, Vargo noted.

Council approved the motion to act immediately at the study session with a vote and unanimously approved acceptance of the grant to cover half the costs and the purchase of the cameras, with the rest of the funds coming from the Parks and Recreation account.

Murray said that they hope to get the system up and running, with Parks and Recreation personnel trained, by spring.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.