Focus: New London

The New London City Council's Finance Committee made the right decision in slowing a proposal that would authorize the administration to spend up to $300,000 to install a surveillance camera system in the downtown. The administration wants the system to deter crime and help investigations.

With too many outstanding questions to simply write the administration a check, yet wanting to keep the process moving, the committee voted 2-1 to authorize spending $17,500 to determine the actual costs of installation and long-term expenses, such as maintenance.

Replacing and expanding the city's outdated camera surveillance system is something the city needs to do. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and the police administration back the plan. Downtown merchants say improved security and better policing are vital to their success.

However, the city needs to do it right and the council should require a clearer picture of how much it will cost before proceeding.

Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard told the committee the new system would have about 40 cameras. The 14 cameras now in use date to 2004, which is ancient history, technologically speaking.

A 2011 report by the Urban Institute, which examined camera use and crime rates in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., found that surveillance cameras can deter crime and are cost-effective, but only when they are properly monitored and installed.

To effectively use cameras, the report recommended involving the community to make sure citizens understand why the cameras are being installed; prioritize training for detectives in how to properly use surveillance footage; and ensure that camera feeds are actively monitored.

Voting in favor of moving the process forward were Council President Wade Hyslop and Councilor Erica Richardson. Voting against was Councilor Michael Passero, who said he was not ready to make it a priority, given other pressing needs and the city's fiscal problems.

While Councilor Passero's reservations are understandable, this system would be a good investment, benefitting the city for a long time. Cameras should, however, assist, not replace, officers on the beat. After seeing police ranks shrink after a series of departures, Mayor Finizio says he is committed to restoring an 80-officer force, a policy that also deserves council backing and on Monday received subcommittee support.

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