Each pod comes with multiple cameras and angles and the provide an extra pair of eyes, even from the past, for police.
“I think they are extremely beneficial,” said Lt. Brian Amaroso of San Luis Obispo Police Department. “They give us an opportunity to go back in time and see if a crime has occurred. Obviously, our officers can’t be everywhere at all times in the city. And if we have high crime areas or areas where there is an event, something where we expect a lot of people, it allows us to put a camera in that location and both keep the area safe and go back and look at evidentiary video should something have occurred.”
Each community has invested in a number of cameras, some more than others.
For Grover Beach PD, dozens of cameras pepper Grand Avenue and are linked to dispatch to give law enforcement a first look before they arrive on scene.
“When there is a report of a crime in progress coming in, the dispatcher can operate those cameras and see what is going on, gather more details for the officers responding to the scene and actually broadcast those over the radio,” said Chief of Police John Peters. “So it’s very beneficial they have that ability to see what’s going and translate that information to the officers responding.”
A majority of departments do not have staff watching the cameras in real-time, but the pods can be positioned at different areas of town and prove effective at deterrence.
“We want people to know they’re up,” said Paso Robles PD Commander Stephen Lampe. “We put them up at the city parks, the lights are flashing, that’s exactly what that’s for.”
Santa Maria Police Department’s Operation Blue Watch has had an impact, according to Sgt. Eligio Lara.
“We have heard from talking to the community and we notice in our crime statistics as soon as we put a camera, the crime tends to decrease,” Lara said. “So they are working as a deterring factor too.”
They aren’t cheap. Prices for camera pods vary, but cost on average $9,000 for each pod and require occasional upkeep.
Most of the funding comes from grants, but some businesses sponsor the surveillance if it means for protection for them, Lara said.
Local law enforcement expects to see more cameras added to their programs in the coming years and have yet to hear protest from the public.
“As far as Big Brother watching us, we haven’t had that problem,” Lara said. “Matter a fact, I get calls from a lot of people wanting those cameras in their community. They want a camera in front of the residence. The businesses are always calling about getting more cameras. Again, if we had 1,000 cameras based on the demands of the community, we would probably have them at different locations already.”
Primacy remains an important goal for all the programs. “None of these cameras are put in places where they will be shining in your windows or your backyard,” Lampe said.
It is likely Central Coast communities will only see more added.
“Cameras are becoming engrained in our society and people now have the expectation that there must be a camera recording this so that we know what happen,” Amoroso said. “So I think that change in people’s perception where their thought process about cameras in public have swung from what it was 5 or 7 years ago when we started this project. There was a lot of concern if this is governmental overstretch and is someone going to be invading people’s privacy with the cameras and I think people are realizing they produce far more good than harm.”
Peters agrees. “In the near future, I see that more and more cities in America will be deploying camera systems to aid their public safety officials and securing their communities.”
Atascadero and Morro Bay are the only two communities that do not have a camera system in place.