March 28, 2017

Report on Spring 2017 Neighborhood Watch/Safety Meeting

A good turn-out of Street Captains
On Saturday, March 4th at Church of Our Saviour, VaHi safety captains and other interested residents gathered for the annual Safety Captains’ meeting. In attendance were experts from the Atlanta Police Department (APD) to explain how they are using cameras to fight crime. There was also a discussion led by the VHCA Safety Committee about what residents and businesses can do within our neighborhood to reduce crime.

Street Cameras
VHCA Vice President Kay Stephenson introduced the topic of street cameras by noting that we have taken a big step in technology in the last year. There are now 9 street cameras installed, including 3 purchased by VHCA with financial support from Alex Wan. These cameras are the ones that show the blue lights, and they run all the time.  The blue lights are a great deterrent, and the crooks try to avoid areas where they are.  There is also a plan to have cameras and lighting  all up and down the Beltline.

Business and resident cameras
In addition to using the police street cameras, the police Video Integration Center (VIC) can take advantage of business cameras if they are integrated into the system. (This has already happened at Lenox Mall.)
Therefore:
·        VHCA wants to do a survey of all businesses in the neighborhood to see who has cameras, and what type, to see if they are compatible with the VIC.  If not compatible with the VIC, they would be eligible for our registry (see below).
·        We will also reach out to residents to see if they are willing to identify theirs—those would not be integrated because of privacy and because home cameras have lower quality than police cameras. But they could be a useful resource, and in some cases already have been.
·        Accordingly, VHCA has started a registry (both residential and business) of who already has cameras in the neighborhood. This is a voluntary program: You are not obligated to turn video to police.  But they may contact you using the registry if there is an incident near your location.
Anyone interested in helping with this project, or who has a camera, can get in touch with Kay or Eleanor or email us at [email protected]

Street cameras and Tag Readers
Marlon Trone talks about Video Integration Center
Next, Marlon Trone, of the Atlanta Police Foundation, explained how the Foundation supports police. It’s a private-public relationship, like the Piedmont Park Conservancy and City of Atlanta owned Piedmont Park. The Police Foundation runs the Crime Stoppers Program and the Video Integration Center (VIC), among other initiatives.  One of its initiatives is to evaluate police cameras before they are purchased, and help determine how they are used.
The VIC has computer monitors that pull up streaming video from street cameras. The purpose is to support first responders and investigations. When there is a 911 call, the 4 closest street cameras are instantly activated. 2 can be rewound 5 minutes to help begin an investigation. The real-time ones show what is happening right now—for example, a victim on the ground.  Also, tag readers are being installed—there are about 200 right now. They ping if a suspect car passes them, so police can head over there. These have been very successful.
There has been a 40% reduction in crime where cameras and tag readers are installed. They are also a deterrent, which is why they have blue lights and signs. Tag readers snap pictures, transform them to data, and check to see if this owner is wanted.

Body Cameras
Officer Mercado and Sgt. Reyes discuss Body Cameras
Next, Officer Joseph Mercado of the APD led a discussion and demo of police body cameras. Cameras have now been rolled out in Zone 6.  Body cams provide transparency and serve as a behavior modifier for both ends. Police are able to see how they interact with the public and learn how they could have interacted differently. Also when a person realize they’re being recorded, it tends to improve the tone of that person when talking to the police.
Zone 6 has had their cameras since the beginning of January. By summer, all officers that answer 911 calls will have body cameras. Officers wear them their entire shift and if they are working off duty (like FBAC) they wear them then as well.
How the body cam video is used. If there is an incident, officers can later enter information into the recording about the incident, which goes into a database that can be part of a wider query later. The hope is to get better prosecution. Video can show the judge that the person has done something multiple times. The judge can see the actual video, not just a report, and this has more impact. By state law all videos are kept for 6 months, indefinitely if a crime has been committed. Footage cannot be deleted by the officer. Only an administrator can delete. The recordings are also encrypted—they only work on supervisors’ docks. So no one can download to their computer. There is an automatic audit trail of who viewed a video and that audit trail can't be deleted.
A body cam records exactly what the officer sees, so his perspective is what can be demonstrated. If the officer is looking into headlight glare, then that’s what the camera sees, too. There are no filters, by design. It’s a critical part of fairness to show exactly what the officer was seeing. Officers have guidelines on when to turn the body cam on.  In addition, the Police Foundation is currently working with the manufacturer to possibly create a trigger—for example, turning on blue light could automatically start the camera.  When an officer activates a body cam, it automatically includes the prior 30 seconds in the recording.
Body cams cost $399 each. Docking them after a shift automatically downloads and charges the battery.

Safety Committee initiatives for safety captains to pass on
Next, VHCA Safety Chair Eleanor Barrineau led a discussion on Safety Committee Initiatives that safety captains can pass on to their streets:

1. Lighting.  We want to be sure that bikers, pedestrians and people getting in and out of cars are safe. So we are looking to improve lighting in dark areas. On your own street, encourage people to keep porch lights on, and to have driveway lights. We recommend dusk-to-dawn light bulbs (Home Depot has them—they look like regular light bulbs and screw into a regular light fixture, but they automatically come on at dusk and off at dawn). 
We want people to feel safe walking from the Beltline to our business district and walking around the neighborhood. If you see a dark spot that needs attention, talk to the homeowner or let us know via [email protected]. Walk your street and report street lights out (GA power for wooden poles, City for metal poles).

2. Graffiti. If you see any, send to [email protected]. Include a picture if possible. Dept of Corrections crews work on those under the supervision of an APD officer. These crews can remove debris as well, such as sometimes appears on Maiden Lane.

3. Event impact. Elmwood captain Jo Ann Zyla said that we want to let neighbors know when events are coming up that affect traffic and parking.  Accordingly, the vahi.org calendar at the bottom right of the home page has been expanded to include many different events that could affect traffic and parking. You might even want to participate, knowing an event is going on.  NPU-F is assisting our effort by sending security contact information for the largest events, and also sending event organizers information about preferred special parking arrangements on nearby streets.
Officer Evans, Beat 601
4. Homeowner cameras. Email [email protected] to let them know you have a camera. The Safety Committee can then include these on a registry that police can use. So Street Captains, please let your neighbors know about that.

5. Directed Patrol. Can call Zone 6 (404-371-5002) to request a Directed Patrol if you have an ongoing issue, such as excessively heavy trucks cutting through from Monroe to the old Kroger using Park Drive.  (Kay and Eleanor would appreciate knowing also if you have reported  a major ongoing issue.)
6. When to call 911 and when to call 311. For any crime, call 911. 311 is very effective for things about which you don’t need immediate police action, such as potholes, leaks in street, street services. You can get a ticket number and their follow-up seems to be good.

Finally, our thanks to the police/police foundation representatives who helped make the meeting a success: Michael Faughnan, Sgt. Julio Reyes, Marlon Trone, Officer Joseph Mercado and Officer Evans.

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