Two new security camera clusters focused on Alba Park are Medford police's latest efforts to curb crime, though they insist that Big Brother isn't watching.
Installed last week at the intersection of Eighth and Holly streets and down the road at Main and Holly are two camera clusters with conspicuous flashing blue lights, officially known as police observation devices, according to Deputy Chief Scott Clauson. The cameras feed into a digital video recorder at Medford's police station, where footage is automatically stored for 30 days.
Though police have the capability to access footage remotely, no staff member is tasked with monitoring the video in real time, Clauson said. He described the cameras as a tool used for investigating crimes and said the faint blue light acts as a crime deterrent.
"It really seems to kind of push people out,” Clauson said.
The Rev. Murray Richmond, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Medford, said he hadn't noticed them before.
"We did not know that the cameras were there, but we support anything that provides safety for people in Alba Park. I guess video surveillance is becoming a greater part of our lives these days," Richmond said. "I just hope these cameras are not used to target the homeless."
Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, a nonprofit that works to house the homeless, expressed support for the cameras as long as they aren't used just to single out the homeless. He said drunken revelers leaving bars also cause problems downtown, and he hopes police will be able to better investigate those vandalism cases.
"To me a camera's not a threat unless you're doing something bad," McComas said. "I don't think any group of respectable citizens — homeless or not — would have a concern."
Clauson said the cameras are watching for criminal activity, not homelessness.
“It’s not just the mere fact that they’re homeless — it’s the ones causing the disorderly behavior such as drinking in the park,” Clauson said.
Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine said he didn't recall any discussions about the cameras prior to their installation, but said he supports cameras at parks, at intersections and on police as ways to make Medford "a little bit safer."
"When there's a watchful eye, people become more compliant," Stine said. "We can't possibly have police there 24/7, but if we have cameras there it gives us a fuller picture on activity happening."
He said there's limited expectations of privacy at a public park, but approves of police's softer approach.
"This isn't just about seeing someone playing in a public park," Stine said. "It's more like, there's a tape."
As the cameras have been installed for only about a week, Clauson said Medford police lacked data to determine results at Alba Park, but they've seen positive results from a camera mounted near the Ninth Street bridge — where transients gathered at the bridge had been harassing Rogue Community College students who parked at Almond Street.
"Our success story is at the Ninth Street bridge," Clauson said. "That was an area we were getting a lot of complaints."
Loitering problems dropped in that area, he said, and the camera assisted in corroborating a victim's statements in a domestic violence case.
The three camera clusters in Medford are a small fraction compared to other cities. Grants Pass, for example, has 30 cameras.
"We're a long way from having that kind of coverage," Clauson said, adding that police are waiting for one-month and six-month crime statistics before they consider expanding the project.
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.