Last April, security cameras played a key role in catching the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Some Southern New Hampshire towns are considering some of that technology.
Salem, Londonderry and Plaistow could soon be have security cameras monitoring public properties. The Legislature is considering a bill to allow cameras at park-and-ride lots around the state. This would include the one at Exit 2 off Interstate 93 in Salem, and those off Exits 4 and 5 off I-93 in Londonderry.
In Plaistow, officials are considering a proposal which could put cameras outside public properties - town hall, the public safety complex and recreation fields.
Across the region, local officials and leaders have mixed opinions on the possibility of cameras surveying their towns.
“I think it’s appropriate in the park-and-ride lots,” Salem Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride said. “Beyond that, I’m not sure.”
Most park-and-ride lots already have surveillance cameras set at low resolution, as required by state law, but they do not capture perfect images of a person’s face or a license plate. If House Bill 1250 is passed by the Legislature, the camera resolution would be adjusted so faces and license plates would be recorded.
In Derry, cameras monitor Alexander Carr Park, Hood Park and the Derry Municipal Center.
“They serve a great purpose,” Derry police Chief Edward Garone said. “In some cases, they’ve had an evidentiary purpose. We also know they have served as a deterrent to prevent crimes.”
Garone said his officers don’t constantly monitor the cameras. Instead, they review the tape if there is reported suspicious activity.
He said officials from other towns have spoken to him about the benefits of the cameras.
“They want to know how we use it, how much it costs us,” he said. “But it’s worked really well for us.”
In Londonderry now, the only public cameras are positioned around the police station. Police Chief William Hart would be hesitant to add more.
“While there are advantages to using them, what’s equally important is the intrusion of privacy,” Hart said. “That would be an important concern to everyone in town.”
Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell said he wouldn’t support the installation of public cameras unless there was an absolute need.
“If there’s a case of vandalism or other crimes in certain locations, then I can see where we would need them,” he said. “But that’s not the case in Salem.”
Campbell also expressed concerns about the associated cost.
“They’re not inexpensive,” he said. “We’d have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and making sure we have people to run it.”
Campbell said selectmen voted not to write a letter in support of the cameras.
“The rules and regulations of the cameras just aren’t clear,” he said. “If you’re going to give up privacy, we need to have an exact understanding what they’re going to be used for.”
Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said protecting town property is the primary reason for installing the cameras.
“These would be for security, not surveillance,” he said. “We have millions of dollars invested in infrastructure. We want to make sure we secure that and keep it safe.”
Fitzgerald said fire Chief John McArdle and police Chief Stephen Savage have both recommended installing cameras around town.
“We want to find that balance between safety, security and freedom,” Fitzgerald said. “When you look at Sandy Hook or the marathon, you can see the benefits of cameras. We just want to explore different strategies and make sure we have proper security.”
The proposal is being discussed by selectmen. It was not clear how much the cameras would cost.
“We’ll have a better idea in a couple of weeks,” Fitzgerald said.
He said he and the two chiefs recently went to other communities and evaluated how they use their cameras.
“We went to Somersworth and Swampscott,” Fitzgerald said. “We talked about the best locations for the cameras and looked to see how they monitored things.”
Plaistow Selectmen’s Chairman Robert Gray said he wants to make sure town employees feel their privacy is being respected if cameras are placed in Town Hall.
“You don’t want them to feel like they’re being watched,” Gray said. “I haven’t heard enough of the reasoning to support them right now. If there is a specific safety reason, then it’s something we ought to do.”
McArdle and Savage are expected to make a formal presentation to Plaistow selectmen about the benefits of the cameras in the coming weeks.
The House bill is due out of the Public Works and Highway Committee by March 6.