Council Debates Surveillance Cameras

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Chestertown councilmen Marty Stetson (L) and Ellsworth Tolliver listen to the monthly police report.

“How effective is the surveillance camera on Calvert Street?” Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked that question at the Chestertown Mayor and Council meeting Monday, during the monthly police department report. Tolliver is the council representative for the Third Ward, which includes the Calvert Street area, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Sgt. Steve Lozar, who delivered the report, said the camera has solved a lot of crimes, including narcotics enforcement. He said the cameras provide a lot of “behind-the-scenes” information to police.

“How often are they used?” Tolliver asked. He asked if indications of drug transactions are followed up by K-9 patrols with drug-sniffing dogs.

Lozar said the camera feed is available to every officer in a patrol car. It is also shared with the Kent County Narcotics Task Force, which includes members of the Sheriff’s department. “We’re all working together,” he said. The camera feed can also be accessed from an app on officers’ cell phones, he said. He offered to show it to council members if they are interested.

Councilman David Foster said that when he lived near the corner of Kent and High streets he requested a camera for his neighborhood and saw a significant decrease in criminal activity there. He said he requested the camera because he felt the area was dangerous for his daughter.

Lozar said that camera was removed several years ago.

Tolliver said, “I have to explain to people in the neighborhood why they’re the only neighborhood in town with a camera, under 24/7 surveillance. That, to me, is uncomfortable.” He said school-age children are “under suspicion the minute they go out the door.” He characterized the effect of the camera as a “stigma” on the neighborhood.

Sgt. Steve Lozar of the Chestertown police department delivers the monthly report on the department’s activities.

Councilman Marty Stetson, a former Chestertown police chief, asked “Who’s uncomfortable? They can put one on my front porch if they want.” He said children in the area are being protected by the presence of cameras.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said she learned a lot by riding with officers in a police car. She said it’s common for people to call in noise complaints to draw officers away from an area where something illegal is going on. Having the camera feed lets the officers see what’s really happening.

Mayor Chris Cerino said the Calvert Street camera was requested by residents of the neighborhood after a drive-by shooting. He said the neighbors also complained of litter, public drinking, and drug use.

Lozar said the request was fulfilled by moving the camera from High Street. He said a lot of residents of the neighborhood praise the camera.

Tolliver said singling out Calvert Street stigmatized the neighborhood. “It’s not the only problem area in town,” he said.

“There’s a lot going on up there right now,” Lozar said.

Cerino asked what other neighborhoods Lozar would put cameras in if funds were available. Lozar said the business area of High Street would be one spot.

Stetson said they would also be useful in the town’s shopping malls. Lozar said the owners of Kent Plaza have approached the police about putting a camera there.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the mall owners can put up cameras on their property and give the town police access to the feed. He said the Calvert Street camera was funded by a state grant for “hot spots” of criminal activity. He added that if funds were available, he would like to see cameras in the town’s parks and along the rail trail and near the town street department yard.

Cerino asked what cameras cost — “about $2,000 mounted?”

Lozar said the infrastructure to support the cameras costs a lot more. However, he said, the current system could accommodate up to 180 cameras on a 24/7 basis. He said the surveillance camera technology is becoming the norm in police and security work, supplementing foot and vehicle patrol work, He extended an invitation for any council member who is interested to ride with a patrol officer to see what the police are doing on a regular basis.

In addition to the discussion of surveillance cameras, Lozar reported that the Elks Lodge has donated a drop box for disposal of unwanted or outdated prescription drugs at the town police station at 601 High St. The box is available 24/7, and is in addition to the box at the Sheriff’s office off Flatland Road. He said the box was available for all prescription drugs, as well as over the counter medications such as aspirin. However, he asked that no needles be left in the box.

Police Chief Adrian Baker, who normally delivers the report, was at a conference.

Other topics discussed at the meeting– including farmers’ market rules, a bond bill for marina work, and a line of credit for the town from Chesapeake bank– will be covered in a Spy report later this week.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Ellsworth Tolliver says:

    It must be understood that the use of cameras should be effective in all areas of the town as they are percieved to be in the Calvert Street area. This report does not convey my deep concern that certain citizens are being stigmatized for alleged activity that may or may not occur within a neighborhood of hard working families.

    • Ron Jordan says:

      Concur, if one neighborhood has cameras then all neighborhoods in Chestertown should have cameras. The neighborhood being stigmatized is right next door to the Chestertown police department. If the police department wants to cut down on alleged drug and crime activity, then our fine policemen should get out of their cars and walk around the neighborhoods. The vastness of technology is why the police forces in many cities and towns are mistrusted by the citizens they are pledged to protect and serve. In other words, get off your asses and walk.

  2. Marty Stetson says:

    Parts of our population have to stop thinking of themselves as victims. Everything government does is not based on black or white but what is good for the population in general. I feel sure that the decisions such is to where cameras are placed was not made because of race, but need, To spend tax payers money for cameras that are not necessary just so certain people might feel better is a waste of tax payers money. The police department is in the business of keeping people safe not in the “feeling good” business.

    • John Beck says:

      “The police department is in the business of keeping people safe not in the “feeling good” business.”

      Marty, you seem overly focused on the half of a police department’s goal “to protect” while underrepresenting the importance of “to serve.”

  3. Mahlet Mersha says:

    Editor, was it really necessary to add the phrase “ a predominantly black neighborhood” ? Why can’t you just say it is a high crime area? Why the need to insinuate that race is responsible for the problem? We know it is not a race issue. Unfortunately, drugs are an equal opportunity employers!

    As both Ellsworth and Ron mentioned, this move is used to single out the neighborhood and the hardworking residents of Calvert st. Why not have cameras in other neighborhoods too?

    Also, the “offenders” can always walk to the next street with no camera. I feel it might be much better if we work to prevent these crimes from happening instead of wasting our resources on solving crimes already committed.

    • Peter Heck says:

      If the story omitted the fact that the only surveillance camera in town is located in a largely black neighborhood, some readers might not understand why Rev. Tolliver questioned its presence, or the feeling of being stigmatized that some of the residents have stated. If we called it “a high crime neighborhood” – a characterization that may not be supported by statistics – we might reinforce the very perception that Rev. Tolliver is challenging.

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