Protecting the neighborhood

Un­happy with the vi­ol­ence in North­ern Liber­ties, busi­ness own­ers and res­id­ents are try­ing to in­stall se­cur­ity cam­er­as to help keep a watch­ful eye on the area.

Tom Up­de­grove, seni­or con­sult­ant for In­ter­Net­work Ser­vice, ex­plains how the se­cur­ity sys­tem works.

North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ents might soon be un­der the watch­ful eye of a new $100,000 se­cur­ity cam­era sys­tem if a pro­pos­al from the North­ern Liber­ties Busi­ness Own­ers As­so­ci­ation is ap­proved by the board of the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict.

The plan would see an In­ter­net-based sys­tem of about 50 se­cur­ity cam­er­as placed in vari­ous loc­a­tions throughout the com­munity.

Res­id­ents ap­proved the plan by a wide mar­gin dur­ing a May 26 meet­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Nina De Costa, pres­id­ent of the NL­BOA, the idea for the cam­er­as began al­most ex­actly a year ago with the hor­rif­ic murder of Sa­bina Rose O’Don­nell, a 20-year-old wait­ress who lived at Fourth Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue. Last Wed­nes­day, June 1, marked the first an­niversary of O’Don­nell’s death.

“This all kind of star­ted with the death of Sa­bina,” said De Costa. “The whole Sa­bina thing really turned me around. Something good has to come out of that … We need to pro­tect ourselves.” 

Matt Ruben, pres­id­ent of the North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, where De Costa presen­ted the sur­veil­lance cam­era plan dur­ing last month’s gen­er­al meet­ing, said res­id­ents had a few con­cerns, but a vote at the end of the meet­ing offered “sig­ni­fic­ant sup­port” for the idea.

Co­in­cid­ently, the NLNA meet­ing to dis­cuss se­cur­ity cam­er­as came on the heels of an­oth­er murder, this one at Front Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue less than 24 hours be­fore­hand. Po­lice said Quasheam Rich­burg, 20, stormed the Trax Foods store at about 3 a.m. that morn­ing and fatally shot the cash­ier, Moustafa Shaker.

Us­ing sur­veil­lance foot­age from that in­cid­ent, po­lice iden­ti­fied Rich­burg, who is cur­rently sought for his sus­pec­ted in­volve­ment in the crime.

“I think it’s a great thing, if it’s handled cor­rectly,” said Ruben.

The pro­pos­al is to place a net­work of se­cur­ity cam­er­as around com­mer­cial prop­er­ties in North­ern Liber­ties where crime is the worst.

The cam­era loc­a­tions, when they are se­lec­ted, will be marked so their pres­ence is made known, but “in an in­form­at­ive, not a scary, way,” prom­ised De Costa.

Ac­cord­ing to Tom Up­de­grove, seni­or con­sult­ant for In­ter­Net­work Ser­vice, an IT com­pany based at 21st and Chest­nut streets, the sys­tem would likely be broken down to of­fer four sets of cam­er­as at 12 loc­a­tions — placed only on busi­nesses not on res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties — likely along the com­mer­cial cor­ridor on Second Street.

How did Up­de­grove learn of the NL­BOA idea?  He’s a stake­hold­er at PYT, a res­taur­ant owned by his son, Tommy Up, in the Piazza at Schmidts.

Through PYT’s in­volve­ment in the NL­BOA, Up­de­grove said, he learned about the pro­ject and he hopes to provide a high-res­ol­u­tion cam­era sys­tem, with un­lim­ited re­cord­ing abil­ity, at a reas­on­able cost.

“He has a great repu­ta­tion and a lot of in­teg­rity,” said De Costa of Up­de­grove.

Up­de­grove said his com­pany provided the se­cur­ity cam­era sys­tem for the park­ing lot at At­lantic City’s Trop­ic­ana casino.

“That’s what they really want is high-def cam­er­as,” he said.

Cam­er­as alone, he said, each could cost about $250-$1,000, sim­il­ar se­cur­ity sys­tems cost about $10,000 for a net­work of just four cam­er­as.

For $100,000, he be­lieved he could provide a stronger, more ver­sat­ile sys­tem with about 50 cam­er­as.

“I’ve been do­ing a lot of work with this in the last 10 years,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to De Costa, an­oth­er com­pany, which had done work with the city’s 26th Po­lice Dis­trict in the past, had been con­tac­ted to provide cam­er­as, but they dropped out.

Joe Rafter, head of the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict, which re­ceived the re­quest from the NL­BOA for the fund­ing, said the pro­ject could be ap­proved at the PTSSD’s next meet­ing, to be held Wed­nes­day, June 22.

If ap­proved, the pro­ject would re­ceive half of its fund­ing now to start as a pi­lot pro­gram and an­oth­er half in the fall when the PTSSD gets ad­di­tion­al fund­ing from Sug­ar­House casino.

“A large ma­jor­ity of people wanted this,” said Rafter, not­ing the vote from the NLNA meet­ing.

Rafter said that as the com­munity has grown in re­cent years, it’s also seen a growth in its share of crim­in­al activ­ity, be it vi­ol­ent crime or, much more of­ten, rob­ber­ies and car break-ins.

Cam­er­as in areas where there isn’t as much de­vel­op­ment, and few­er eyes on the street, could help im­pact crime, said Rafter.

“There are still a lot of dark spots in the neigh­bor­hood. There are spots where it would be good to see more de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

While much of this pro­ject re­mains in limbo — where these cam­er­as will be placed, the types of cam­er­as that will be used and even just who would have ac­cess to view cam­era feeds on this sys­tem — Up­de­grove said the fund­ing would be used to pur­chase and in­stall cam­er­as that would be at­tached to a web serv­er for un­lim­ited re­cord­ing space.

“You could store the Lib­rary of Con­gress,” joked Up­de­grove about the space po­ten­tially avail­able for re­cor­ded foot­age.

But, how long might this foot­age be stored and who would be per­mit­ted to view this foot­age?

Ac­cord­ing to De Costa, the plan is to provide the foot­age to po­lice only if they need it for an in­vest­ig­a­tion. Oth­er­wise, the cam­er­as would only be viewed by someone, likely Up­de­grove, who would do main­ten­ance on the sys­tem.

There would be no one that would mon­it­or the cam­er­as round the clock.

“Nobody can sit there and mon­it­or everything, that’s not the idea,” said De Costa. 

While the PTSSD plans to meet at the end of this month, De Costa said her group will be work­ing with the NLNA, the North­ern Liber­ties Town Watch and of­ficers from the 26th  Po­lice Dis­trict and the 6th Po­lice Dis­trict to de­term­ine cam­era place­ment based on crime stat­ist­ics, and come up with a con­crete plan for how the sys­tem will be used and mon­itored.

“We will have to get a group to­geth­er to ham­mer some is­sues out,” she said.

She said that be­fore any­thing is pur­chased or in­stalled, there will be time for pub­lic in­put and up­dates on the pro­ject at up­com­ing NL­BOA and NLNA meet­ings.

Capt. Mike Cram of the 26th Po­lice Dis­trict, which patrols the areas where the cam­er­as could be in­stalled, said he liked the NL­BOA’s sur­veil­lance plan.

“This is the com­munity’s idea, not mine,” he noted. “But, I think it’s a fab­ulous idea.”

The cap­tain said that not only could the cam­er­as be a suc­cess­ful crim­in­al de­terrent, but also they could help the of­ficers catch crim­in­als — and en­sure con­vic­tions — after a crime oc­curs.

In fact, he poin­ted to a city­wide po­lice pro­ject, called Sa­fe­Cam — a grow­ing on­line data­base of loc­a­tions where Phil­adelphia res­id­ents and busi­ness own­ers list act­ive sur­veil­lance cam­er­as to help po­lice find foot­age fol­low­ing a crime — as an ex­ample of how this sys­tem could help in­vest­ig­a­tions.

“There’s no doubt about it, they help lead to the ar­rest of people,” agreed Up­de­grove.

Dis­cuss­ing just who would then mon­it­or the cam­er­as, if not po­lice dir­ectly, Up­de­grove said that was still up for the com­munity to de­cide.

“People might say that this is like George Or­well’s book, 1985, and maybe it is,” he said. “But, that’s why we have to make sure the com­munity is in­volved. That’s why we have to man­age it.”

If the pro­ject is in­deed ap­proved, it will have the abil­ity to grow. It is ex­pand­able, mean­ing res­id­ents could add their own cam­er­as to the sys­tem – De Costa said in North­ern Liber­ties alone, 60 res­id­ents have sur­veil­lance cam­er­as already.

“And, of course, there’s already plenty of busi­nesses with cam­er­as already,” re­minded De Costa.

If the plan proves suc­cess­ful, it might ex­pand out of the neigh­bor­hood too.

Res­id­ents can add their own cam­er­as in­to the sys­tem and, Rafter said, if people like how it works, he could see it spread­ing north through the rest of the casino’s SSD.

“This is a pi­lot pro­gram,” said Rafter. “We will see how this works and it could be used throughout the SSD.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­

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