Source: Garret Ellison | Michigan Live |
Downtown businesses are giving area law enforcement agencies greater access to private video surveillance feeds under a new push to increase real-time monitoring capabilities in Grand Rapids.
Jack Stewart, Kent County emergency management coordinator, said the Grand Rapids Police and Kent County Sheriff’s departments are increasing access to the downtown surveillance apparatus under a new public-private partnership program.
The two agencies are tapping into private video feeds from existing cameras mounted on the exterior of private commercial buildings downtown, he said.
Previously, police would request video from private feeds during the course of a criminal investigation. Now, police will be able to monitor the feeds in real time from county and city dispatch centers.
“This is the same technology that helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers,” said Stewart. “This is not day-to-day monitoring. It’s just in the event of an emergency. There would have to be an event serious enough to trigger us to monitor the cameras.”
The program, which Stewart said is pursuing federal Dept. of Homeland Security grants to expand the surveillance capability downtown with new and upgraded equipment, has been in the works for several years.
“Some of the cameras are hooked-up already, but we’d like to offer to enhance and expand to other businesses and facilities that want to hook-up to the project,” said Stewart about uses for the possible grant money.
The program is a response to increasing activity in the downtown area, and disclosure of the project follows a pair of downtown shootings this month that have caused Grand Rapids police to step up their presence in the district.
Shots fired outside McFadden’s Saloon on June 15, and the shooting of a two teenagers downtown on June 18 after the Bruno Mars concert are “good examples” of when the technology would be used, said Stewart.
Large events like ArtPrize or the Fifth Third River Bank Run are also examples of when real time monitoring would be useful, he said.
Stewart said there are roughly 100 exterior video cameras right now that are or could be accessed under the program, many of them concentrated around government and critical infrastructure buildings.
Non-disclosure agreements precluded Stewart from naming specific businesses participating in the program, but some were willing to disclose that on their own.
Cameras mounted on Amway Hotel Corporation properties downtown are part of the program, according to Amway Corp. representatives.
Spectrum Health is also participating.
“We think it’s a good idea,” said Bruce Rossman, spokesperson for Spectrum. “Our people have been at the table since the beginning.”
Rossman said the attitude at Spectrum is that the program will help improve safety and security in the downtown area as well as providing “another layer to keep our own patients and staff safer.”
BarFly Ventures, the parent company for Arena District bars McFadden’s, HopCat, Stella’s Lounge and the Grand Rapids Brewing Co., is still evaluating whether to provide access to its cameras, said owner Mark Sellers.
Stewart said the program is limited to outdoor surveillance only, and monitoring of public areas where “there’s no expectation of privacy.”
“I’m not aware of any plan to do surveillance on indoor cameras,” he said.
Private participation in the program is voluntary, he said. Businesses or entities that wish to opt-out are free to do so at any time.