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Tenn. police add 14 new cameras around city

About 16 extremely detailed live streams are projected at one time onto a large screen in the intelligence center, where they’re staffed 20 hours per day

By Rosana Hughes
Chattanooga Times/Free Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — It’s been about a year and a half since the first batch of the Chattanooga Police Department’s live-feed cameras went up around the city’s high-crime areas, and now the department’s ready for more.

Fourteen new cameras were recently mounted on telephone poles in several neighborhoods, including the Westside, Orchard Knob, Ridgedale, Cedar Hill and Highland Park. That makes for a total of 29 police cameras around the city, in addition to the city’s 300 security cameras.

Each camera is encased in a large, white box emblazoned with the police department’s badge. They stream live video back to the department’s Real Time Intelligence Center at the Police Services Center on Amnicola Highway.

About 16 extremely detailed live streams are projected at one time onto a large screen in the intelligence center, where they’re staffed 20 hours per day. Officers can rotate among different cameras, and each camera can pan, zoom and rotate, either on a preset, automatic rotation or by manual control.

The footage is saved for no more than 30 days unless it’s used as evidence in a case, Chief David Roddy said.

Funding for the additional 14 cameras came from the Chattanooga City Council and was about $173,000, Roddy said, and maintenance for all 29 cameras costs about $48,000 annually. The original 15 cost $192,600 for purchase, mounting and maintenance.

To determine where to place the cameras, police looked at a combination of crime data and community and patrol officer feedback.

“We sought input from the community because if we put a camera in one block, maybe it’s not turned the right way, or there’s a particular corner or a particular location that just seems to be causing the most fear,” Roddy said. “So it’s not just to to address the crime that’s causing the fear, but to address the fear, as well.”

The same process was used when installing the latest cameras.

The police department finished installing its first 15 cameras in May 2017, and since then, they’ve proven to been a key resource in solving violent crimes.

In fact, during the first six months, there were a total of 30 requests for video from officers and investigators for different cases, including five homicides and 13 shootings, Chattanooga police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said.

Of the 30 requests, 22 resulted in usable video evidence, she said.

Not long after their installation, the cameras played an instrumental role in identifying Lebron Brown as the suspect in a June 8, 2017, shooting that critically injured an 8-year-old boy. Brown was charged with attempted first-degree murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault.

Less than two weeks later, on June 20, 2017, cameras captured one of the suspects in a double homicide in which the bodies of Thomas Holder, 20, and Rayshann Underwood, 17, were found in Highland Memorial Gardens cemetery.

Just before 1 a.m., both victims were captured on video at the East Lake Courts getting into the passenger seats of a silver Chrysler PT Cruiser, as was a juvenile already known to police. William Wright also was seen getting into the driver’s seat, police said.

An independent witness heard a gunshot coming from the cemetery at about 1:30 p.m. and the car was captured on video returning to East Lake Courts about 10 minutes later. Neither victim exited the vehicle.

Wright and the juvenile each were charged with two counts of first-degree murder, as well as especially aggravated robbery.

Then on July 8, 2017, footage showed Travis McCullough driving erratically in business parking lots before stopping, yelling for help and tossing his infant’s lifeless and completely unclothed body into the arms of a “good Samaritan” who heard his cries for help.

The 11-month-old died after being left unattended in a hot car for several hours. McCullough was later charged with criminal homicide and three counts of aggravated child neglect.

Since the cameras have been installed, five of the original 15 have been moved because crime rates dropped in those areas.

“It’s not a direct correlation. I can’t say that the camera absolutely removes crime,” Roddy said. “But we like to think that those cameras did play a part in addressing crime in that area.”

While privacy concerns have been cited in the past, police have always pointed to how the cameras are in public areas where citizens have no expectation of privacy.

The concern is understandable, Roddy said, but “when you walk down the street, you’re probably on no less than a dozen cameras at any one time. Between ATMs and businesses and personal cellphones it’s remarkable the amount of times that our activities get captured by third parties. But understand that your police department is doing it to address fear.”

So far, Roddy said, he isn’t aware of any negative feedback. On the contrary, he said he thinks the community appreciates the security the cameras provide.

“When we put the first camera up for the demonstration we left it up to 24 hours so everybody could see what it did,” he said. “When the vendor went back out to that location to take the camera down, a gentleman that lived in the area actually walked up with his grandchildren and ask him to leave the camera.”

“I think they had a shooting out there a couple of days prior to that, and he said, ‘Had that camera been here maybe it wouldn’t have happened or at least you could have gotten video that would have helped you catch whoever did it.’”

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, whose district includes the Avondale neighborhood, said the cameras aren’t a topic that comes up in conversation very often.

The Avondale community has multiple cameras around Dodson Avenue and Wilcox Boulevard.

“From a personal standpoint, cameras are very much welcomed,” he said. “They help deter crime and help the police department do their job and keep the community safe.”

He said in the few conversations he has had, the tone was in support of the cameras’ presence.

“People support the cameras. I didn’t hear any conversation about being spied upon,” he said.

Roddy said the program’s next step is to obtain more mobile cameras and hopefully reach a partnership with businesses and possibly even residences around the city. Those cameras wouldn’t be constantly monitored, but if there was a potential threat, police would be able to keep an eye on that particular camera.

“We would also be able to get into those cameras’ systems, just like we do our own current public safety cameras, and grab segments of video that are of evidentiary value,” Roddy said.

“My hopes and dreams is that we have a whole bunch of cameras that are simply giving us a view to our city of everybody going around on a safe and peaceful day.”