SUPERIOR — The city could have security cameras mounted in key areas to track and identify vehicles involved in crimes this summer.
The city’s Public Safety Committee is mulling a trial run involving 20 Flock Safety cameras, but committee members Nick Ledin and Tylor Elm said they’d like to see some type of camera ordinance in place first.
Capt. Paul Winterscheidt with the Superior Police Department provided information on the Flock Safety system to the committee at its Thursday, April 21, meeting. The department is seeking to place cameras along traffic routes in Superior for a 45-day trial this summer.
The Flock Safety system focuses strictly on vehicles involved in active investigations, Winterscheidt said. It can track a vehicle by license plate or other factors, including type, model, color and characteristics such as a roof rack or window sticker.
The cameras, which take a series of still pictures, can be hardwired into a power source or come as self-contained solar units. They are not “speed cameras,” that just snap a picture of a license plate and send out a ticket to the vehicle owner, Winterscheidt said. The system doesn’t involve facial recognition and the data collected is stored for 30 days.
The police captain said the cameras would reduce human bias, protect individual privacy and serve as a deterrent against crime. Police could send out real-time alerts on stolen vehicles, suspect vehicles involved in crimes, Amber alerts and more. According to a representative from Flock Safety, 11 communities in Wisconsin already use their cameras, including Rice Lake.
“It’s catching us up to where a lot of cities already are,” Winterschedit said.
He said past cases in which a camera system could have been utilized included the Toriano “Snapper” Cooper homicide in 2012 and the 2014 Garth Velin homicide case.
“That is impressive technology, but I think we have to work on the policy behind it first,” said Elm, the 6th District’s city councilor.
The city does not have any specific ordinance on the use of cameras, the committee was told.
The item was tabled until the May meeting for more information. Winterscheidt said he could provide sample policies from municipalities that utilize the system in May.
The base cost for the system is $2,500 per camera annually with a one-time installation fee of $350 per camera. If one of the units is damaged or vandalized, the first replacement is free. A business or private entity could purchase a camera and share the feed with the police department.
The committee also got a price quote for installing an infrared preemption system for emergency vehicles in the city’s stoplights.
Todd Janigo, director of public works, said it would cost approximately $180,000 to install the system as well as to provide 37 emitters for police and fire department vehicles.
A preemption system allows emergency vehicles to turn the stoplights in their path to green to prevent motorists attempting to get out of their way from being pushed out into oncoming traffic. Not having such a system creates a big liability from a risk management standpoint, according to Superior Fire Chief Scott Gordon. It’s something Duluth put in 20 years ago, the committee was told.
Many of the city’s stoplights are new enough to already have the capability for preemption following recent construction projects on Tower Avenue, Belknap Street, East Second Street and Central Avenue, Janigo said. With fewer old stoplights to retrofit, he said, it’s a good time to make the leap.
“I don’t think the question is should we do this. We need to do this. The only question is where is it coming from?” Ledin, who represents the city’s 1st District, asked.
Committee members asked Janigo to bring in supporting documents and additional information to the May meeting, at which point it could be moved forward.
In other business, the committee approved a motion to go through the normal process to sell off the city’s two surplus fire trucks. The rigs would be declared as surplus and brought to auction.