In a room not much larger than a walk-in closet, the Sarasota Police Department houses the command center of its citywide surveillance-camera system.
Forty-three cameras mounted on poles, streetlights and the sides of buildings keep watch over all the activity in their ranges. Some cameras can read car-tag numbers from four blocks away.
“They’re an undiscovered tool,” said police Capt. Jeff Karr, who oversaw the implementation of the system.
He uses the word “undiscovered,” because the new system has yet to reach its full potential.
Currently, the police department doesn’t have the staff monitor the cameras in real-time, but it uses them as an additional investigative tool. They check the recordings after a crime has been committed to help make an arrest.
State law requires that surveillance footage be archived for 35 days before it is deleted.
Officers were checking the footage from the Palm Avenue parking garage June 6, because of some vandalism committed the previous weekend.
Karr said no major crimes have yet been recorded on the cameras.
The parking garage has 18 cameras trained on its six parking decks. One camera is perched at Selby Five Points Park. One keeps watch over North Trail at Myrtle Street and U.S. 41. Two cameras monitor the activity in Payne Park, and 23 cameras are mounted at the Housing Authorities’ various public-housing projects, such as Janie’s Garden and McCown Towers.
Fredd “Glossie” Atkins Park may soon replace its 11 obsolete cameras. Two of the high-tech cameras will now be able to do the job of those 11 older devices.
The soon-to-open Robert L. Taylor Community Center will also have its own camera system, which will tie in to the police department’s command center but will also have its own on site.
Officers on the night shift are increasingly visiting the command center, said Karr, because the nights can be slow. Those officers will monitor several of the cameras to see if they can catch any illegal activity in action.
So far, between the city and the housing authority, more than $500,000 has been spent on the wireless-camera system.
Karr said the next step is getting large residential alarm companies to forward video footage to the police department if there’s a crime in progress.
And, although it would not be recorded, he also foresees video from an automated traffic system, which monitors Sarasota’s roadways, to be fed into police headquarters.
“(The camera system) will become more and more important as we move forward,” said Karr.
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HOW THE CAMERAS WORK
On one wall inside the first-floor command center are four 42-inch Vizio flat-screen televisions.
Each TV has the capability of displaying the image of one camera inside a full-size screen or dividing up the screen into 16 small boxes, each one displaying the image from a separate camera.
A desk sits about 5 feet away from the monitor wall with a computer display, mouse and two joysticks, which control pan, tilt and zoom.
A double-click of the mouse transfers one of the 43 camera images to the computer display and allows the use of the joystick to control movement.
The cameras have a long visual range. They can make out a face or license plate number from up to four blocks away.
For example, the camera at Selby Five Points Park can shoot an image clear enough to identify people dining outside at Main Street and Lemon Avenue.
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