Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Downtown police cameras up in time for New Year's Eve

LANCE BENZEL Updated: December 28, 2012 at 12:00 am

Looking to ring in the New Year in downtown Colorado Springs?

Be advised: You might be on camera.

Colorado Springs police this month debuted their latest crime-fighting tool: Thirteen surveillance cameras installed along Tejon Street — home to commerce, entertainment and now the Police Department’s Eyes in the Sky.

Perched on street signs and resembling ordinary light fixtures, the cameras beam a 24/7 live-feed to an operations center a few miles away at the police Gold Hill substation, 955 W. Moreno St. There, police officers and volunteers monitor a bank of high-resolution screens, watching for trouble.

The devices are capable of rotating 360 degrees, and they supply high-resolution images even in low light, making them effective at night.

The $163,000 surveillance program was approved earlier this year by Colorado Springs City Council, which cited concerns over crime and unease among downtown visitors. The cameras join other high-tech gadgets in use by police, who previously installed — then removed — traffic cameras that snapped pictures of drivers who ran red lights.

In the public sphere, there are no expectations of privacy, police argue — an argument that has survived legal challenges to similar surveillance programs across the country.

Whether the public will accept the scrutiny may be the better question.

The cameras earned mixed reviews Friday from a variety of merchants, shoppers, homeless people and tourists quizzed about them.

“That’s pretty bizarre,” said Nancy Alexander, a visitor from Balitmore, Md., who balked after a reporter pointed out a camera at Tejon Street and Bijou Street. “It’s amazing how people are so fear-based. They need to get over themselves.”

A street performer strumming a guitar in Acacia Park didn’t see the big deal.

“I don’t do anything wrong, so I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Brandon Kirkride, a Colorado Springs resident of 19 years.

Sandra Towery, a cook at Carl’s Junior near Acacia Park, cheered the cameras and wanted to see one put up closer to her work place: “If people don’t like the cameras, it’s because they’re probably doing something wrong.”

Others raised concerns about the potential for misuse. Police say volunteers were trained in the lawful use of the cameras and vetted with background checks and polygraph examinations. Officers on light duty also will monitor cameras.

Joe Barrera, a retired University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor who spent Friday morning shopping downtown, called the cameras an “ironic” new presence in a city known for its libertarian streak.

“For people who profess not to want Big Government, why is the community allowing these cameras?” he asked.

Police say they have no plans to widen the program beyond downtown.

The cameras were supplied by Wizard Works of Castle Rock.

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