By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The importance of security cameras in identifying the Boston Marathon bombing suspects has Haverhill looking to expand its use of such cameras.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the city will install security cameras inside and outside City Hall, in and around the Merrimack Street parking garage, and at various playgrounds and ball fields.
Haverhill police began deploying stationary surveillance cameras in 2009, mostly where thieves repeatedly broke into cars and vandals put graffiti on buildings and other structures. The Eagle-Tribune reported that year that the city bought 16 surveillance cameras for $4,000 each.
But in light of the crucial role that surveillance cameras played in the identification and capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Fiorentini said there's new interest in deploying more of the cameras locally.
In the past, not everyone has supported expanding the use of the cameras. While many people see them as a valuable public safety tool, others consider them an invasion of privacy or don't trust how the government will use them.
In Haverhill, police said the cameras have captured images of drug deals, people vandalizing buildings and instances of illegal dumping. But some residents have also raised concerns, suggesting some cameras might be able to see inside homes or used to spy on law-abiding citizens.
"When I was on the council many years ago, I opposed them," Fiorentini said of the cameras. "But the world has changed."
The mayor said he has asked police Chief Alan DeNaro to develop a proposal for more security cameras in the city, including where they should be deployed and how they could be paid for.
The mayor said the Police Department has a grant to pay for the installation of several cameras outside City Hall in the next few weeks. Several more cameras will be installed inside the building this summer, he said. Cameras will also be installed this summer inside the Merrimack Street parking deck, on busy downtown streets and at several playgrounds, he said.
"We want people to feel safe and be safe," Fiorentini said.
City Council is also taking up the surveillance camera issue at its meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Councilor William Ryan is scheduled to discuss "the placement of security cameras in urban and high crime areas in Haverhill."
Last year, several councilors asked Fiorentini to find money to install lights and possibly video cameras in downtown alleys for the safety and convenience of visitors and residents. The alleys have become more heavily used since the city began charging to park in the center of downtown a year ago. Parking is free farther from the center of downtown, but people parking in those areas have to walk, often through alleys, to restaurants and other businesses.
David Van Dam, the mayor's aide, is scheduled to update the council on the alley lighting project tonight, but yesterday he said he will postpone his report because he has no new information.
Van Dam said there is currently no plan to install cameras in the downtown alleys, but he acknowledged that could change based on recent events in Boston and the council's wishes.
Fiorentini said he would like to install lights and cameras in the alleys, but that it is a complicated endeavor because the city does not own the alleys.
Van Dam said the city is negotiating with at least one downtown property owner for an easement that would allow the city to install lights and possibly video equipment in one prominent alley. He said the city is looking at a partnership where the city would buy and install the equipment and the property owner would provide the electricity.
Meanwhile, there are already several city-owned surveillance cameras on Washington and Merrimack streets, and at least one private camera is coming soon.
"At least one restaurant has already said they are going to put a camera outside as a safety enhancement to sidewalk dining," Van Dam said, referring to the Barking Dog Ale House on Washington Street. "We suspect other businesses might do the same."