WHITMAN — In the wake of an increase in cases of vandalism and fighting at Whitman Park, the Board of Selectmen has voiced support for placing security cameras there.
“I know the discussion has been had out there before regarding whether or not security cameras make sense in the park,” Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said.
He added that a meeting had been held recently, not to discuss whether or not to install cameras, but how it would be done should the decision be made, how much it would cost and whether there actually is an increase in the incidence of problems in the park.
“There has been a little bit of an uptick this year,” he said, admitting that the rate may have been lower last year because of the pandemic.
The plan now under consideration would involve five cameras, for which the town is now doing preliminary pricing, and finding that about $45,000 is the anticipated price tag.
“There is no funding source for that,” he said, asking for the board’s level of interest in order to include the project on the town’s capital plan.
Resident Shawn Kain suggested another approach, however.
“You can spend $45,000 on cameras to catch them and hold them accountable …but something you should consider is finding ways to build culture and build community,” he said.
Kain suggested that $45,000 could be used to support Recreation programs, or for someone to work an afterschool basketball program.
“It’s not an easy issue,” Selectman Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said, noting that it could be discussed “later on down the line.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said there had been a recent incident of vandalism that he termed “disgusting” and refused to speak about it further.
“I’ve been a proponent of this as, I think, Dan [Selectman Dan Salvucci] has for quite some time,” he said. “This is not a new idea. … Nowadays, there’s cameras everywhere. We’ve made significant investments to the park.”
He said benches are vandalized all the time, and the most recent incident was at the playground, adding that it’s time to find a way to protect the park, recommending that more than five cameras might be needed.
“We have to find the funds for this somehow,” Bezanson said.
Salvucci said that cameras would not detract from the historic nature of the park, and that five cameras would be a start.
“People have paid for those benches to honor family members,” he said.
Police Chief Timothy Hanlon said the vandalism has been a topic of discussion both from the “Big Brother is watching” angle (which he said is not the case) to the benefit of having a way to follow up crime reports.
Hanlon said the cameras would not be monitored unless the department was directed to for some reason.
“It might make our job easier, but you have to weigh that with what the public wants,” he said.
He also indicated that one would have to go back a few years, to a pre-COVID year or two, to accurately determine if the uptick is significant statistically.
Bezanson also stressed the need for cameras that can take a clear picture, comparing the clarity of footage from the Mars Rover, to the fuzzy images from bank cameras of robbery suspects in recent years.
“Having cameras and not being able to determine what is there makes it foolish money,” he said.
“If the town is to do this, there’s no point in buying something that’s not going to be useful,” Heineman said, indicating that was behind the $45,000 price tag.