Safe City: 27 cameras will monitor crime in Federal Way's downtown core

Twenty-seven cameras monitor the downtown core, defined by the orange area. The cameras are part of the Safe City program and allow officers to see crime as it occurs and evaluate a crime scene before arriving on location. - Courtesy photo
Twenty-seven cameras monitor the downtown core, defined by the orange area. The cameras are part of the Safe City program and allow officers to see crime as it occurs and evaluate a crime scene before arriving on location.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Police are keeping a close eye on criminals in the downtown core — and the public and business professionals are invited to witness how the technology works.

A Safe City launch party will take place noon to 3 p.m. May 27 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S., in the council chambers. Safe City, a nationwide program supported by the Target Corporation, takes advantage of 27 closed-circuit cameras in the downtown core. The cameras are located in places such as The Commons mall parking lot and other businesses.

Video feed is directed to police and volunteers, who watch for criminal activity. They can use the program to help identify suspects as well as call for aid to injured victims or bystanders before police arrive on scene. The effort is a little more than three years in the making and is based on relationships between the city, police, residents and business owners. It is expected to be a crime deterrent.

"We want bad guys to stay out of the city of Federal Way," police spokesman Raymond Bunk said. "We want everyone to know about these cameras."

Officers access the cameras via a secured password from inside their work vehicles. They can manipulate the cameras — zooming and panning to get a closer look at a specific location. Approximately 10 police volunteers also have access to the cameras. They periodically spend time scanning the live video feed and monitoring the downtown core from inside the police station. Criminal activity, suspect information and crime details caught on tape are provided to officers responding to the scene.

Volunteers are looking for obvious criminal happenings, as well as suspicious circumstances, police volunteer Dave Ehlers said. A person that seems to be attempting to enter several vehicles in a parking lot, or is having a hard time getting a key to open a vehicle, could be a car prowler, he said. Volunteers report any out-of-place activity to police. With a little training, those with access to the system may even be able to follow a suspect's vehicle through several cameras as it flees a crime scene, Ehlers said.

"There are certainly things you look for, but you never know what you're going to see," he said.

The cameras are not observed 24 hours per day, but they do capture live video around the clock. The recordings are on a seven-day feed. After this time, video can no longer be accessed, Bunk said. The cameras save police officers time and resources.

The cameras provide evidence that is hard to refute: Live video of the crime. Safe City cameras have been active for about five months and they already helped police in an assault, traffic and a bank robbery case, Bunk said.

"It's just example after example," he said. "It's just cool stuff."

Cameras watching residents' public actions may be a little unnerving to some, but measures to ensure the system is not abused are in place, Bunk said. Periodic audits occur, and each person accessing the system is required to enter a password. If any concerns arise, every camera movement dictated by that person can be analyzed.

"We're not using it to break people's civil rights," Bunk said. "We're using it for good, not evil."

To sustain the program, the city will spend an annual $37,500 garnered from utility tax revenue, chief financial officer Bryant Enge said. The Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and city provided some start-up funds.

The Chamber aims to form a non-profit affiliate and charge businesses annual membership fees as a way to help sustain Safe City, Chamber CEO Tom Pierson said. Businesses that become Safe City members will receive window decals, among other things. The organizations will get other benefits, similar to those received by members of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, Pierson said.

The Chamber began educating businesses in the downtown core about the program in March 2008, but since that time, many may not know the cameras are up and working, Pierson said. Attendees to the May 27 launch party will have the opportunity to get involved in Safe City and witness how the program could benefit their place of business, he said. The Chamber hopes to someday expand the program outside the city's core, he said.

"Now that cameras are running, I don't think many businesses are aware of that," Pierson said.

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