By Shawn Regan
HAVERHILL — City Council has endorsed Mayor James Fiorentini's plan to deploy more surveillance cameras throughout the city in the wake of the successful use of such cameras in identifying the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
The mayor said the city is pursuing state and federal grants to buy more of the video cameras and that he is also considering using money donated to the Police Department by a deceased former resident.
Haverhill received $607,000 last year from the trust of the late Elmo D’Alessandro, a former resident and successful businessman who died in 2008. The bequest, which can only be used for law enforcement purposes, has been held in a separate city account while the mayor and council decide how to use it.
On Monday, Fiorentini said the city is planning to install security cameras inside and outside City Hall, in and around the Merrimack Street parking garage, at various playgrounds and parks, and on the busiest downtown streets.
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.
Last night, Councilor William Ryan asked his colleagues to endorse Fiorentini's plan, which they agreed to do.
"Five or 10 years ago, I would have said there's no way I'd support having video cameras all over the city," Ryan said. "But times have changed."
The mayor said he has directed Public Safety Commissioner Chief Alan DeNaro to develop a proposal for more security cameras in the city, including where they should be positioned and how they could be paid for.
"We're not talking about active cameras with someone watching a monitor," Ryan said. "We would only use them when there's a crime, like the one at Lord & Taylor (department store in Boston) that got a great picture of the terrorists."
"If they hadn't been caught, they were planning to go to New York and probably do the same thing there," Ryan said of the alleged bombers, adding that members of his extended family where very close to where one of two bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line on April 15.
In the past, not everyone has supported expanding the use of the surveillance 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.
"The cameras can also be a deterrent because people might be less likely to commit a crime if they know they are being taped or photographed," Ryan said.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he wants to make sure some of the cameras are deployed at city schools, playgrounds and large parks.