Surveillance camera "cover-up" in Philly

August 12, 2009 3:55:16 PM PDT
There's a cover-up involving dozens of surveillance cameras in Philadelphia... literally.Those cameras have been covered with black plastic bags. Of course, in that state, they're of little use in the fight against crime.

It was back in late 2007 when the city announced, with fanfare, that it was installing 250 surveillance cameras over the next year.

Well, here it is mid-2009 and Action News has learned that only 161 have been installed.

And of those, only 98 are useable. Another 63 of them are covered with bags, waiting to be activated.

City Councilman Frank Rizzo is on the public safety committee. He says they could at least use them as decoys until they're activated.

"You know how many people put little stickers on their window? XYZ, ABC Alarm Company and there's no alarm in the house? It's a deterrent," Rizzo said.

The city says it doesn't want the public to think the cameras are working when they're not.

"I wouldn't want to mislead the public at this time," said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison. When asked if it wouldn't be better to mislead the criminals, Everett said "I don't think they're thinking about it one way or the other."

The 98 cameras that are working have become a valuable tool for the police.

"I think it's great. It's been an excellent crimefighting tool, I found so far, in the short time we've been using it," said Lt. Thomas Woltemate of the Philadelphia Police.

Police have captured criminals in the act, and have been able to look at back tapes to identify suspects.

But, there's a least one case where a working camera could have helped solve a crime.

Last month a body was found in Fairmount Park. During the investigation, police found out where the victim was picked up.

They went to the location and found a camera with a bag over it.

The city says it would like to have all cameras operating, but the installations were slowed when they decided to switch from wireless connections to fiber optic lines.

Sources say the city's financial woes have also interfered.

The contractor, Unisys, hasn't been paid since June 27th. However, the city says money isn't the problem.

Unisys had no comment.

In the meantime, the police and the public say the more cameras, the better.

"I feel safer thinking somebody will see something. That's the way they catch a lot of crimes these days, somebody's camera," said Ramona Thrower of Mount Airy.

The city promises the bags will be coming off soon and more cameras are coming.

October is now the new deadline for getting all 250 hooked up.