Security cameras eyed for Whitman Park
WHITMAN — Police Chief Scott Benton is considering a Town Meeting warrant article calling for the placement of security cameras in Whitman Park. He has been discussing the issue with Town Administrator Frank Lynam, IT Director Josh MacNeil and DPW Parks and Highways Superintendent Bruce Martin.
Lynam urged Benton to bring the idea to the Board of Selectmen so, from a policy standpoint, “We can clear the air and not just surprise people by throwing cameras up there.”
The discussion was intended to inform the town and spur public discussion on the proposal.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Lynam said. “Ten years ago, this was Big Brother watching everything. I think today people realize that [cameras] serve a public and public safety purpose.”
He said cities, such as New York and London, are heavily covered by security cameras, and the trend is coming to smaller communities now. Lynam added that he’d like to see them used downtown, as well.
“There’s always a big debate on do cameras reduce crime? No,” Benton told selectmen on Tuesday, Dec. 1. “The long and the short of that is no, but they go a long, long way to solve it.”
He noted that the Boston Marathon bombing, and many other cases including motor vehicle accidents, would not have been solved without video evidence gleaned from security cameras. FBI Academy information Benton cited points to security cameras as “holding more evidence than any other source — more than DNA, crime scene analysis or eyewitness testimony.”
“The need is there,” Benton said, citing past vandalism damage to the park area and town pool. He also stressed that recordings would only be reviewed when there is cause to do so.
“When something happens, people want answers,” he said. “You want to be able to provide those answers.”
Others make move
Many surrounding communities are also making the move to post security cameras. The initial cost is expected to be lower than the cost of maintaining equipment and archiving recordings.
“The ability to identify people who do bad things goes a long way toward deterring other people from doing bad things,” Lynam said. “The concern I have always had is one of infrastructure cost.”
Estimates are being sought on the cost of fiber optic and other wireless systems for a pilot program consisting of a couple cameras as a test, perhaps ahead of a Town Meeting vote.
Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci, who conducted the meeting in the absence of Chairman Carl Kowalski, asked if permission from the Historical Commission would be needed to place cameras in the historic park.
“We have talked about putting cameras in the park in the past,” Salvucci said.
Lynam said the small cameras would in no way alter the park’s appearance.
“In the times that we live in, I think it’s critical,” Benton said. “I think it’s my responsibility to make the board aware — make the people aware. I think we let the people vote, let the people have their say.”
But he stressed the importance of protecting the park as a place of recreation for young families.
“You don’t want to be the guy who’s looking at a family saying, ‘Geez, I don’t have any answers to that,’” Benton said.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea, and I don’t think you’ll have to do a lot of convincing,” said Selectman Lisa Green, citing recent “questional behavior” in the park as well as questionable items left behind.
Selectman Brian Bezanson also voiced support.
“Who knows what’s going to come around the corner and for us to say ‘we should have’ is not good enough,” Bezanson said.
In other business, the board approved a request by the Rev. Joshua Gray to permit closing off a portion of Broad Street between Washington and Central streets from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20 so the First Congregational Church may conduct a living Nativity program. Refreshments and a carol sing will follow in the church Fellowship Hall.
“It’s just a great community event, [we’re] trying to get people out to remember what this season is about for those of us who are Christians,” Gray said. “Just a fun community event.”