By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City controller Alan Butkovitz says the Philadelphia Police Department’s surveillance camera system is fraught with problems, including scores of broken-down cameras.

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In response, the Nutter administration says Butkovitz has no idea what he’s talking about.

At a City Council budget hearing today, Butkovitz said one-third of the city’s 250 crime cameras are broken down at any given time.  And even when they do work, he said, they don’t work well.

“We found that there were holes in the cameras, that they would get filled up with rainwater, that they were blurry.  It was almost impossible, at least on TV, to distinguish faces or anything else that would have been useful in an operational sense,” Butkovitz told the committee.

Butkovitz also said the cameras are of little use since there is no real-time monitoring taking place.

“Really, the practice is just to look at the video after an incident happened to identify perpetrators, rather than see if there’s a real-time situation where you can deploy added force and maybe save somebody’s life,” he said.

In comments later to reporters, Mike Resnick, the mayor’s director of public safety, disputed the controller’s claims.

“Ninety-three percent of the cameras that we have are operational,” Resnick said.  “We have a maintenance contact in place.  (If) a camera goes down, something’s goes wrong with the camera, we immediately get somebody out there to troubleshoot and fix the problem.  Our system is robust, it’s up, it’s running,” he added.  “I don’t know what the controller is talking about.  I don’t know where he gets his information from.  He’s clearly not involved in the maintenance or operation of this.”

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Resnick said that in addition to the city’s 250 cameras, the police department has access to 2,000 Septa cameras and thousands run by private buildings.  And he said real-time monitoring — as suggested by Butkovitz — is not practical.

“No system has people watching thousands and thousands of cameras.  Do you know how many people you would need to do that?  It’s unrealistic,” Resnick said.

Meantime, City Council president Darrell Clarke used the hearing to openly wonder why the city is not using Shotspotter technology, similar to what’s being used in Camden, which helps police zero in on the sound of gunshots.

“We’re talking about a technology that can actually report a gunshot, so we have a real sense of how many people are actually shooting, and to actually be in a position to let people know that we have this detection system,” Clarke said.  ” ‘If you shoot, I don’t care if you hit them or not, we’re going to find you, we’re going to track you down.’  That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Resnick told reporters that the city is, in fact, testing out similar audio technology.

“It’s tuned to gunshots.  It will pick up the sound of a gunshot and will automatically focus our cameras to the sound of that gunshot.  We have to do the testing, and then verify the results,” he said. “And then, once all that is to the satisfaction of the police commanders, it will be rolled out, probably within the year.”

 

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