Ypsilanti Township to test public surveillance cameras in West Willow neighborhood
View Larger Map
The West Willow neighborhood is bordered to the northwest by the I-94 Service Drive, to the southwest by I-94 and to the east by Wiard Road.
West Willow residents will soon have a set of cameras watching over their neighborhood.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved funding for a pilot program to install five security cameras in public areas throughout the neighborhood.
If the pilot program proves successful, township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said the program could be expanded township-wide. The system is expected to be up and running within four to six weeks and officials will evaluate results around the end of summer.
Ypsilanti Township has seen a spate of violent crime in recent months, and Director of Police Services Mike Radzik said Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department data indicates the highest concentration lies in West Willow.
Radzik said the neighborhood also has a high concentration of parolees and rental homes, and it demands a larger share of police resources.
Testing the cameras there also makes sense because the neighborhood only has five entrances and is “defined and contained”, Radzik said. West Willow is a triangular-shaped neighborhood bordered by I-94 to the west and south; the I-94 service drive to north and west and Wiard Road to the east.
Officials are particularly interested in recording cars using the entrances. Radzik said the cameras would not be pointed directly at any houses. They would largely record sections of streets where cars slow down, affording a clean shot of the license plates. The cameras could also record a section of street in front of a home where there is known criminal activity, or at parks where there have a high number of incidents.
Closed circuit, hardwired cameras already record activity outside the Ypsilanti Township Civic Center, community center and community golf course. The new cameras are wireless, transmit images via cellular service and are mobile. They would be attached to DTE Energy utility poles and could be easily moved throughout the neighborhood, officials said.
The cameras start recording still images upon detecting motion in an area and transmit full color images back to a central computer, where they are stored for up to 45 days. The cameras would not provide a live stream and no one would regularly monitor the recordings.
Instead, if there were a crime, police could pull the images from the computer. Radzik said there would likely be a police official on each shift who is trained to retrieve images in case a serious crime occurs and images are needed quickly.
Radzik also said officials have yet to determine whether they will advertise to the public that an area is under surveillance or if the cameras will be “covertly” placed throughout neighborhoods. If the program is advertised, residents would likely be alerted through signs stating that an area is under surveillance.
Radzik said he hasn’t heard any complaints about privacy issues.
“If opposition does present itself, I would be interested in hearing why,” he said.
The $30,000 system will be purchased with money from the police services fund. Officials said they are checking with their insurance company to determine if the cameras are covered in the event of vandalism.
Each camera cost $3,922. Trustee Stan Eldridge, a former Ypsilanti police officer, said he fully expects the cameras will be vandalized and the township should “go into this with our eyes open and know we are going to spend above and beyond” the $30,000. For an additional $3,000 per camera, the township can purchase “anti-ballistic” cameras that can withstand a bullet unless they are hit directly on the lens.
Radzik said Eastern Michigan University uses the same system and township officials recently went there for a demonstration, which he said was impressive. Eldridge said he had also worked with EMU’s cameras in the past said the system works “very, very, very well.”
One point discussed at length was how to develop benchmarks to determine the pilot’s success. Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jim Anuszkiewicz said officials need to consider their expectations of the camera. He said the system won't capture clear images of perpetrators committing crimes, but if images are being pulled seven to eight times a month to help solve crimes, then the cameras could be considered useful tools.
Township officials said the cameras could be effective, especially given the reduced number of deputies patrolling the streets.
“We have less deputies out and we have to do whatever we can to make our dollars go further,” Township Clerk Karen Lovejoy-Roe said. “We can’t have cops on every street, so this, in some ways, if it works and we can get images and license plates, it’s actually going to put that many more police officers out there 24-7, 365 in those areas.”
Anuszkiewicz agreed. He said the township and Sheriff’s Department have extensively researched the idea, and added that the township is being proactive in employing technology to help solve crimes.
“When you look at what’s going on across country and world
technology is the thing that’s getting out there, because (municipalities) aren’t putting more cops on the street,” he said. “They’re taking cops off the street and looking at technology to replace them.”