Police officials call new West Willow security cameras 'an effective tool'
Ypsilanti Township and Washtenaw County Sheriff Department officials say they are pleased with initial results of a pilot program in which five security cameras were mounted in public areas throughout the West Willow neighborhood.
One neighborhood leader also says the neighborhood association has heard informally from multiple sources that the cameras have acted as a deterrent and pushed illegal activities out of West Willow and into other neighborhoods.
In April, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved paying $30,000 for the program out of the township's police fund. The cameras were installed and operable in July.
New West Willow Neighborhood Association President Angela Barbash said some residents told members of the group that some of the illegal activity was pushed to other neighborhoods once word of the cameras got out. Barbash said discussing what kind of illegal activity had moved would only be speculation.
“Informally, what we’ve heard is that it is discouraging illegal activity,” she said. “However, it’s pushing that activity into other communities and neighborhoods, so that’s a concern for us and our friends and neighbors who live in those neighborhoods.”
Mike Radzik, the director of police services for Ypsilanti Township, said he couldn’t confirm that the cameras were driving criminals out of the neighborhood, but he said they were in place primarily to serve as an investigative tool.
Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jim Anuszkiewicz said the agency is using the cameras to identify “a number of different situations that come into view,” but declined to offer specifics because the information in sensitive.
The cameras haven’t directly led to any arrests, Anuszkiewicz said, but he called them an effective tool and said it was “just a matter of time before they lead to a solved crime.”
Violent crimes and break-ins were reported to be down earlier in the summer, though there is no evidence that the decline is linked to the cameras' presence. The Sheriff's Department launched a multifaceted campaign to address crime issues in West Willow over the summer months.
Radzik said he expects the Sheriff's Department will provide a report "concerning the value of the system for investigative purposes" by the end of the year. The board will then have an opportunity to review the report and decide the future of the pilot program.
Radzik said the cameras are fixed in place in five locations, cannot zoom, only record public places and do not face any homes. The cameras are wireless, transmit images via cellular service and are attached to DTE Energy-owned utility poles. The camera and its supporting metal pole can be moved and reattached to a different utility pole if necessary.
Radzik said the township would move the cameras if the Sheriff’s Department found they would be more effective or there was a demonstrated need for them in other areas.
The cameras start recording still images upon detecting motion in an area and transmit full color images back to a central computer. The images are selectively downloaded by the Sheriff's Department for investigative purposes. Images not downloaded are over-written by the device every four to five days, depending on the volume of activity, Radzik said.
The cameras don’t provide a live stream and no one regularly monitors the recordings. Instead, police could preview and download the images from a local computer at the police station as needed, Radzik said. Multiple deputies are trained in using the equipment.
Officials previously said West Willow was selected for the pilot because of its high concentration of crime and because it is “defined and contained." The triangular-shaped neighborhood has five entrances and is bordered by I-94 to the west and south; the I-94 service drive to north and west and Wiard Road to the east.
Radzik said he hasn’t heard concerns about privacy issues since the cameras were installed.
Barbash said residents have expressed overwhelming support among for the cameras, but said the neighborhood association is interested in seeing a formalized policy covering their use.
A drafty policy is under review and will likely be adopted soon, Radzik said.