Dewey Beach residents and police are hoping surveillance cameras will curb crime in the small town famous for its wild summer nights.
Dewey Beach Public Safety Task Force met Feb. 28 to discuss installing up to 10 cameras in areas that generate the most police complaints, near nightlife hot spots and parking lots where underage drinking can occur.
Tele-Tector of Maryland Inc. President David Spilman and Manager Jeff Wilkes attended the meeting. Tele-Tector has installed integrated security systems in major metropolitan areas, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Spilman said the company could install and maintain pan-tilt-zoom cameras in Dewey Beach, which would record 24-hours a day. Task force member Jay Rooney said one server could handle up to 10 cameras, and each camera could hold up to two weeks of footage.
Rooney said he, Spilman and Police Chief Sam Mackert toured possible locations for the cameras, including spots on Dickinson Avenue, Dagsworthy Avenue, Bellevue Street, Swedes Street and the intersection of Route 1 and 1A.
“I think we’ve got the best possible locations we can,” Mackert said.
Six Dewey Beach Police officers also attended the meeting, including Mackert, Sgt. Cliff Dempsey and Lt. Billy Hocker, and all appeared in favor of the system.
Dempsey said police already use cameras at ATM machines and at private businesses to solve crimes, but there are often large gaps. “Between Read Street and Dagsworthy, there’s not one camera,” he said. “We can sit here and come up with probably 1,000 practical reasons to have this system.”
Hocker said a dispatcher who receives an emergency call could use the system to track suspects as they are talking to the person who called in the complaint.
Mackert said the cameras would act as a crime deterrent and help in prosecuting crimes that are committed. “It’s another tool,” he said.
Mackert said the cameras would also be helpful in the off-season to prevent burglaries.
Mackert posted an alert on the town website Feb. 28, warning homeowners of several instances in the past two weeks where copper was stolen from air conditioning units at houses on Chesapeake Street and Saulsbury Street.
“My force shrinks big time in the winter time,” he said.
Spilman said once cameras are installed, residents would likely request more cameras on residential streets. “I think the interest would grow,” he said. “Nobody wants crime.”
Task force member Bill Zolper asked how the privacy of residences could be protected. “To me that’s important before we go any further,” he said.
Zolper suggested Mackert write to Attorney General Beau Biden, asking if any legal issues could arise from the cameras.
Spilman said the cameras could be preprogrammed to dark out certain areas so the cameras could not zoom into people’s windows. He said the company has installed 1,500 to 2,000 cameras, and has never faced a legal issue regarding privacy.
Mackert said he would go out of his way to answer questions from the public about the surveillance cameras. “We want citizens to have faith in this system,” he said.
Mackert said he secured a grant of about $20,000 for violent crime prevention. “I’ve got the funds right now to fund the initial set-up and purchase one camera,” he said.
Rooney said the committee would have a preliminary proposal with a cost estimate for eight to 10 cameras, Thursday, March 14. The task force will hold its next meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 19.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Rooney said. “As we move forward, there’s going to be new technology that comes up.” Rooney said he wanted to install a system that incorporated drones. “I think we’re taking a more practical approach,” he said.