N. Charleston City Council hear comments, express support for Joint Operations Center
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The City of North Charleston will continue to expand its camera monitoring system by mounting hundreds more cameras in high profile areas across the city.
On Thursday night, city council unanimously passed the 2023 budget which includes $2.5 million dollars for the program. According to Deputy Police Chief Ken Hagge, the city has been researching a surveillance program for nearly two years.
Hagge says there are already more than 120 cameras in use.
“They’re out where everybody can see them. We’ve had these up for two years. We’re just adding to those cameras. So this isn’t something new. In order to be successful in order to help citizens we have to be able to leverage technology because it’s here,” Hagge said.
The program will include building a ‘Joint Operations Center’ where, at all times, two employees will monitor the cameras. Hagge says he wants the public to be a part of building this program and plans to host “three or four” Facebook Live call-in sessions to answer questions about the center.
In the past weeks, multiple community organizations and citizens have spoken up for and against the operations center. Many against it say they fear their data will be compromised.
According to Hagge, the system will retain data from the cameras like license plates, car make and model for 30 days before it is purged. He says there will be “facial matching” but that is not recognition.
“Facial recognition is attached to a database. For example, the DMV or a jail, that’s a facial recognition type platform. Ours is facial matching,” Hagge says.
He explains that matching allows the cameras to pull images from the last 30 days to see if a photo presented to the police matches anything on the cameras, but that isn’t tied to any data about a person.
“I’ll give you an example how we use it. We have a vulnerable adult walk away from their house with maybe Alzheimer’s or dementia. The family gives us a photograph. We physically, from the police station, put that picture in the system and then it will alert us at every camera they walked by, which in turn helps us find him faster,” Hagge says.
Hagge says he and some of the staff will be visiting a similar center in Alabama soon to continue to learn how to best operate the center.
“We’re in the process of talking to all the centers that are successful to this date, and trying to get the best practices from them. What’s working, what isn’t?” Hagge explains.
A dozen people signed up for public comment at the council meeting to talk about the Joint Operations Center. Some who spoke against it, say they fear racial profiling and believe it will create more problems.
Councilman Mike A. Brown spoke to that sentiment, explaining his support.
“Even with everything that I’ve experienced, I know we need some more concrete practical solutions. These mothers deserve to have some type of peace when their children are murdered,” Brown said.
Two mothers did get up and speak in favor of the cameras. Both acknowledged that the cameras are not the only, and maybe not even the best solution to end the violence.
But they spoke from the experience of needing closure, and the ability to find answers after violent crimes.
One of the mothers attributed solving her son’s murder to a nearby home security camera. She says she believes the system will bring information they need to know to women like her after suffering violence and loss.
Marcus McDonald, a leader of Charleston’s Black Lives Matter, spoke as opposed, saying it’s more important to invest in the community at the ground level.
He says that will stop youth from going down a road of violence and rebuild the community. Still, council members stood by their decision that the cameras are also needed.
“These cameras are going to help. No they’re not going to stop people from shooting, no they won’t. But what they will do is hold people accountable. Because when people get away with things…they continue to do it,” Brown says.
Hagge says the police department is planning multiple Facebook Live ‘call-in’ sessions where they will answer people’s questions about the system. He says he also wants to invite people to tour the facility when it is completed. The city does not have a specific timeline for when all of the 865 cameras will be in place, but will continue to work on the expansion now that the $2.5 million budget has been approved.
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