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San Bernardino considers putting better surveillance cameras downtown

San Bernardino considers putting better surveillance cameras downtown

Redeveloping the Carousel Mall property and restoring city hall aren’t the only projects San Bernardino has planned for reviving its downtown.

City officials are laying the groundwork for the San Bernardino Smart City Camera System. Although barely in planning stage, the camera system will begin downtown and then be expanded to other parts of the city that have multiple businesses, like Hospitality Lane.

That proposal was discussed during a special public meeting held Jan. 31 at Feldheym Library. The two-hour session included six council members – Sandra Ibarra was absent – and city staff and was for discussion only, with no votes taken.
San Bernardino’s two highest downtown priorities remain developing a mixed-use project on the 43-acre site where the Carousel Mall stood until it was leveled last year, and restoring city hall. But better street lights and a state-of-the art surveillance cameras system to help deter crime are also major parts of that effort, said Councilman Theodore Sanchez.

“There is a stigma to going to downtown San Bernardino that we have to get rid of,” Sanchez said. “A lot of places in San Bernardino are struggling, not just downtown, but if we can get downtown back the rest of the city will follow.”

The idea that visiting downtown at night is dangerous is a mostly a myth, Sanchez said.

“I go there at night all of the time and it’s not dangerous at all,” Sanchez said. “That’s because no one is there.”

Sanchez represents the first district, which includes downtown: 5th Street on the north, North Waterman Avenue [east], Interstate 215 [west] and East Rialto Avenue [south].

Since 2009, San Bernardino has installed approximately 95 surveillance cameras throughout the city, only four of which still work, according to Police Chief Darren Goodman.

Public works stopped maintaining that system three yeas ago because it was too expensive. The broken cameras must be replaced because repair parts are no longer available.

“I think we all agree that the city’s camera system is dilapidated, and that it’s in need of dire repair,” Goodman said during a powerpoint presentation  “Most of our cameras do not work. They were installed sporadically, without any planning, and they were never integrated into the department.”

The new system will have cameras that can be operated manually and will be able to “zoom in” and generate clearer, more definitive photographs than the old system produced. Each camera will be strategically placed and marked as a police camera, making them an even stronger crime deterrent.

“When people know they’re being monitored by the police they’re less likely to commit a crime,” Goodman said. “It also gives the public a greater sense of security if they know that their neighborhood is being watched.”

Whatever camera system the city decides upon will be AI-based, and it should be rented, not purchased, Goodman told the council.

“It’s pretty old-fashioned now to buy the camera system,” Goodman said. “The new model is you lease, and that way you’re not paying for hardware that can become obsolete. The technology upgrades every two years, and whichever company you go with will usually be responsible for upgrades.”

Cost of the camera project, and a timeline for its installation, have not been established.

Right now, the department does not have enough people to staff the kind of camera system it wants to install, Goodman told the council.

Once the department submits a proposal, city officials will then work on how to pay for it, City Manager Charles A. Montoya said.

“The camera system does nothing if you don’t have some people behind it,” Montoya said. “You will need people monitoring the system, and you will need additional officers responding to people watching the system.”

The new system will be compatible with the cameras San Bernardino businesses already use, but the city should consider offering rebates to business owners to help get the new program started, Goodman said.

“Other cities have done that, so we know it works,” Goodman said. “We’re going to a good informational campaign to encourage businesses to find a system that works for them, but we believe a rebate program would help.”

One downtown property owner gave the downtown surveillance camera program a strong endorsement.

“I think we need a lot of help downtown,” said Ed Adams, a lifetime San Bernardino resident who said he owns several office buildings in and around downtown San Bernardino and is purchasing a third.

That structure has been broken into several times since it went into escrow, Adams told the council.

“I’m willing to pay a little more in taxes to make this happen, and I encourage you to move forward on this issue when it comes up.”

The full restoration of downtown, which is vital to San Bernardino’s economic future, won’t happen quickly, Sanchez said.

“Downtown San Bernardino hasn’t had a good reputation since the late 1970’s,” Sanchez said. “It took 40 years for it to go downhill, so it’s not going to come back overnight.”


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