The Hattiesburg City Council approved a plan to partner with Project NOLA to implement a citywide camera system Jan. 21.
Project NOLA, a non-profit based in New Orleans, provides crime cameras to businesses, individuals and local governments. The footage is stored by the organization for 10 days unless it is requested by the city.
Mayor Toby Barker said the idea of Project NOLA was first brought forward by Hattiesburg police Chief Anthony Parker. Parker presented it to the city council in November as a tool for the police department to help solve crimes more efficiently.
Barker has pushed for the partnership after recent violent crimes in Hattiesburg.
Barker said the cameras would not be a complete solution to crime in the city but could help police solve crimes faster and deter criminal activity.
“A major side effect of solving crimes quickly includes the message that is sent to residents and visitors alike: violent crimes, and all crime for that matter, will not be tolerated in the City of Hattiesburg,” Barker said. “If you commit a crime, you will get caught. Additionally, this system has proven to save costs through a quicker apprehension of criminals, which can often include overtime pay, cost of local incarceration and court-related costs.”
Representative of Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado was the only council member to vote against the partnership. She said she voted against it because she does not approve of government surveillance.
“I don’t believe that we should be surveilling our community. If you want to have surveillance on your private property, that’s one thing. But to be surveilling the community, in general, is a problem for me,” Delgado said.
Delgado said Hattiesburg Police Department already has a good record with solving crimes and that there should be more focus on preventing crimes.
“I’d rather see more police officers that are trained in community relations where their primary responsibility is getting to know the people in a given neighborhood to establish trust,” Delgado said.
Although there are some claims that the presence of the cameras themselves would prevent crimes, Delgado said she does not believe it will.
“These guys are not concerned about that. It would seem that the greatest deterrent would be a life sentence or sitting in jail for 30 years, but that hasn’t stopped them. And cameras give them the opportunity to be even more slick,” Delgado said.
Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George said he voted for the cameras, so that the police department would have another tool to solve crimes.
“Obviously it’s just one aspect to solving crime. These cameras are not by any means the fix-all for crime in Hattiesburg, but I think it’s definitely a tool that will help solve crimes after they happen. Also, I think it’s something that should deter crime because people know they’re on camera.”
Unlike Delgado, George said he is not really concerned about issues of privacy regarding the cameras.
“These cameras are no different from a camera that’s on a convenience store or the Ring doorbell that you may have on your front door that’s already recording towards the street and already recording someone as they drive by,” George said.
Barker said that although the partnership has been approved, they are still several months away from choosing locations for and installing the cameras.
The location and installation of each camera will also have to be individually approved by the City Council.