The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 1, 2013

Enough with delays; get Sunbury's cameras rolling


Daily Item

---- — In the beginning, which now recedes deeper and deeper into the land of lost memories, Sunbury's plan was to use public surveillance cameras as a force-multiplier for the sometimes over-extended city police force.

The appealing and prevailing notion was to employ technology so that officers in their cars or through their smart phones, on their own initiative or in response to incident reports, could scan various locations to see what was happening as it was happening.

In short, technology could nearly liberate city police in time and space, allowing them to occupy two places -- or more -- at virtually the same time. Plus, if the cameras were feeding to the Internet, web surfers everywhere could have been deputized neighborhood watchers at the click of a mouse.

The technological discoveries or administrative decisions that derailed those notions have never been fully explained. Yet, Sunbury is now the proud owner of carefully selected, ruggedly constructed and apparently impressively capable top-of-the-line cameras, with the promise to network up to 300 such devices at the approximate cost of $200,000 to the public.

It has taken four years, two Congressmen and a litany of explanations to get here -- which is pretty much nowhere, because most of the cameras are still in their boxes.

After the Boston bombings, when commercial, private and public technology played such key roles in identifying and capturing the apparent perpetrators before they could spread their mayhem to New York City, the pregnant question of Sunbury's surveillance project was bound to deliver another round of nodding heads and expressions of hope.

Elected council members and Sunbury's mayor agree that the cameras should be operating by now. But no one put aside money to install the equipment. There was an expectation that the city could somehow manage that part of the equation with the help of a technologically astute council member and city workforce.

At various times, the city has hinted about having commercial businesses install cameras. Other communities have launched public fund drives to get their surveillance online. But Sunbury seems stuck for an answer.

If there have been a series of regrettable decisions, own up to the best of intentions despite, perhaps, the unlikeliest of ideas and move forward.

At the center of this morass is $200,000 of public investment for public service. After four years misjudgments about $200,000 start to look like misconduct.