CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Police are keeping an increasing number of eyes out for crime in Charlottetown — electronic ones, at least.
Charlottetown Police Services started using video surveillance in 2009 as a preventative measure when large concerts were taking place at Confederation Landing Park, notes Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell.
“Then we looked at using that as a crime prevention tool all over our city,’’ he says.
The first wireless video, called E-Watch, went up in the capital city in 2015.
Sixty-one more have since been installed, perched up high for a sweeping aerial view of potential trouble makers – people contemplating vandalism, theft, assault, among other criminal acts.
MacConnell can see the number of wireless video cameras eventually reaching 100.
Cameras are in public places throughout the downtown core, along the waterfront, near critical infrastructure and capturing high traffic areas like the Hillsborough Bridge.
“We see a real value to expanding,’’ says the deputy chief, adding Charlottetown Police Services would like to get more sponsorship to have cameras installed in the northern part of the city, notably box store areas.
MacConnell believes the highly visible cameras are serving well their intended purpose to reduce crime and to increase a sense of safety among Islanders and tourists alike.
“Creating a safe environment is everybody’s responsibility in Prince Edward Island,’’ he says.
“If you don’t feel safe, you’re not safe.’’
MacConnell says a sponsor, typically a local business or corporation, pays $5,000 to have a camera installed.
He calls the investment good value for the money.
Dyne Holdings Limited, which operates the Confederation Court Mall, observed “immediate improvement’’ once cameras were installed on Kent Street.
Security staff calls declined, as did loitering.
The Charlottetown Area Development Corporation says it is “very supportive of this program.’’
A local entrepreneur raved that he has not had a single instant of shoplifting since having an E-Watch camera installed outside his Charlottetown store.
“The feedback that we’ve received has encouraged us to expand the program and where it will end up, who knows,’’ says MacConnell.
“I think it’s been a real positive thing for our police department and our communities. It helps us protect not just our communities but our officers in a way that few municipalities enjoy.’’
He adds E-Watch has also provided “investigative value’’ in numerous instances caught on video.
The wireless videos are not a strain on police resources, either, according to MacConnell.
Brenda McPhail, director of the privacy, technology and surveillance project with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says there is not a lot of empirical evidence that these cameras are a good deterrence to crime.
She is also concerned that the cameras erode privacy.
To enquire about becoming an E-Watch partner, contact Charlottetown Police Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell at 902-629-4039.
McPhail says since the E-Watch system is an intrusive method of public safety people should be given the opportunity to offer input and register concerns.
“The public really needs to know what is being provided,’’ she says.
“Our position is that it (use of the E-Watch system) is something for the community to decide.’’
The Charlottetown Police Services use “passive monitoring’’ of the cameras, meaning police officers generally will not be watching the camera images in real time unless there is a directed police use to do so.
For example, if the police receive a call about someone stealing from cars in the area of an E-Watch camera, then that camera will be used to watch and gather evidence about the suspect until the police arrive on the scene.
“Unless there is a reason to view it, people are not viewing it – and that’s a very important part of the strategy,’’ says MacConnell.
“But if we have 2,000 or 3,000 people on Queen Street for Farm Day in the City it becomes very important for police to have situational awareness. So we’re always using the cameras at those times to better evaluate the situation.’’
He stresses that E-Watch cameras observe public spaces only, where courts have held there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
“Police have always been very conscious of the expectation of privacy and we believe in that too,’’ says MacConnell.
“So where we place the cameras, there is always consideration given to that. We won’t put them where they can view anything that can’t be viewed from the street.’’
Policies and procedures on the use and disclosure of video recording are in accordance with the guidelines established by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Audits are conducted periodically to ensure compliance.
“Certainly I can say that these cameras are governed very responsibly,’’ says MacConnell.
Recordings are kept for 14 days, allowing police to investigate crimes reported within that time period in the areas where the cameras are situated. Recordings will not be reviewed or kept longer if no criminal activity has been reported.
McPhail does applaud this practice.