Salem may install security cameras in parks

The Mary Jane Lee Park in Salem is where the city plans to add a splash pad. City councilors would like to see video-surveillance cameras at parks and playgrounds across Salem.File photo

SALEM — City councilors would like to see video surveillance cameras at parks and playgrounds across Salem.

The reason: to deter vandalism, especially as the city makes costly upgrades to various recreational spots.

Councilors point to the existence of about two dozen cameras monitored by the police department that already keep an eye on the downtown, the waterfront, Winter Island and Salem Common. It’s not a novel approach to policing in Salem. The big issue is the expense of installing equipment at dozens of city-owned parks and playgrounds. It’s up to $14,000 each for the cameras.

“It’s basically like a policeman on the beat watching a street corner, except that a policeman can watch five or six corners at once from a desk at the station,” said Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel, who has been working with Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel on this effort.

“There’s a trial going on right now in Boston because security cameras worked,” he said, referring to the Boston Marathon bombing trial. “I wouldn’t want cameras on every street corner ... but the reality is we don’t have a park ranger in every park. There’s no one driving around in a Jeep every day.”

Turiel said the goal is to establish a policy, likely by passing a new ordinance, for the city to set aside money for one or two security cameras anytime a major improvement is planned for a park or playground. Then, the city could gradually assess all sites and add cameras as appropriate. The Parks and Recreation Department would work with the police to determine if cameras were actually needed and help determine where to place them.

The project underway at Mary Jane Lee Park to install a splash pad, for example, will cost more than $200,000. Adding another $14,000 or so for a camera would have been a minor expense, Turiel said. Splaine Park is another example. The city received $450,000 in state grant money to clean up the site, install a new baseball field and irrigation system, build new play structures and make other improvements.

On the other hand, Turiel said, the new waterfront park slated for the old Bridge Street abutment may not need a camera because there won’t be anything to damage there.

Ward 2 Councilor Heather Famico, who supports the measure, said the task is just to craft a “financially feasible” plan. She pointed to other instances of repeated malicious damage to play structures at other playgrounds.

Acting Police Chief Mary Butler, who attended a council committee meeting Tuesday on the subject, said she’s “totally in favor” of placing additional cameras if there are true public safety issues or even strong perceptions of public safety issues in certain areas. 

“Even a perception sometimes becomes a reality,” Butler said.

She noted she had initiated the process to install cameras downtown as well as the Common. Butler doesn’t know of any other communities that have installed cameras at public parks and playgrounds outside of major cities such as Boston and New York, but agrees the measure can help protect the city’s resources and discourage vandals.

There are a number of logistical issues to work out, in addition to the expense, she said, and every effort would be made to avoid infringing on people’s privacy.

Ward 7 Councilor Joe O’Keefe said a city bike path that runs from Salem State University down Canal Street could also benefit from cameras. He said community preservation funds might be used to pay for them.

“We want to do is put it in places where there could be problems,” said O’Keefe. “You see the cameras everywhere ... constantly monitoring and that’s a good thing.”

Councilors decided to keep the issue in committee on Tuesday for further discussion before crafting an ordinance to recommend to the full council.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, jcastelluccio@salemnews.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.

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