Edmonton police to watch some high-crime areas with CCTV cameras

Police will begin monitoring some Edmonton streets this summer with closed-circuit television cameras. 

A six-month pilot project will see surveillance cameras installed in areas where crime is high or large groups tend to gather. 

Between 20 and 30 cameras marked with EPS signs will be installed throughout the city. As of Tuesday, eight cameras had already been installed.

“The project will utilize CCTV in a number of locations across the city that have been identified as large gathering sites or locations where crime has frequently occurred,” the news release said.

The cameras will not be installed in residential neighbourhoods, police said. The footage will only be accessible to officers within the EPS Operations and Intelligence Command Centre and —  unless required for an ongoing investigation — the video files will be erased every 24 hours, police said. 

Acting Insp. Kelly Rosnau with the command centre said the technology will help police deal with an increase in certain crimes. 

Between 2017 and 2019, the number of thefts over $5,000 has increased 59 per cent, theft from vehicles has risen 15 per cent and assault has risen almost eight per cent.

A CCTV network would allow the force to quickly identify suspects and respond to crimes as they happen, Rosnau said. 

Locations were selected based on a data analysis of calls for service, and the cameras may be relocated if local crime trends change, he said. 

“These are areas that traditionally have large groups of people, lots of media attention paid to things happening in these areas,” he said.

“We’re not installing the cameras to deter crime. We’re putting the cameras there to enhance public safety and also enhance our investigative abilities.

“We rely on witness information. And I can tell you that if you and I saw the same event, we might get the same idea of what happened but we would likely pick up different details. So the video allows police to be able to gather as much information as possible so our members can respond in a timely fashion.” 

Streets and other public spaces in Great Britain have bristled with security cameras for more than 25 years, ostensibly helping police identify crime suspects.

Surveillance cameras are also used in some Canadian jurisdictions. Toronto doubled its CCTV network last year amid a spike in gang violence. Ottawa police are being asked to explore the idea of installing security cameras in the ByWard Market following a series of deadly shootings in the area last year.

Police surveillance cameras have been tested in Edmonton before.

The Old Strathcona Closed Circuit Television System consisted of four cameras covering the busy Whyte Avenue bar and shopping district. The cameras functioned during certain high-profile events in 2003 and 2004 but were abandoned after an internal review found the system played a limited role in crime detection and police investigations. 

According to a research article by the Alberta Law Review the cameras on Whyte ran for 544 hours during the summer of 2004 but only detected four incidents that required police response. 

To suggests that a camera would serve as a deterrent today I think would be naive.These cameras are there to enhance public safety.– Kelly Rosnau

Rosnau said he was not familiar with the Whyte Avenue surveillance project but does not expect the cameras will act as a crime deterrent. 

“We live in a world where there’s cameras everywhere,” Rosnau said. “To suggest that a camera would serve as a deterrent today I think would be naive.

“These cameras are there to enhance public safety, enhance our investigations and to be able to just hopefully create a safer environment for everybody.” 

Cameras have been used more frequently in recent years as tool for patrol officers, he said, allowing them to intervene quickly in potentially volatile situations. 

CCTV cameras were installed near the old arena to help police monitor crowds of rowdy fans during the Oilers 2006 Stanley Cup run, he said.

More recently, officers used portable CCTV cameras in October 2019 to monitor environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s rally at the legislature. 

“We had knowledge of different groups wanting to come out to that event who would potentially oppose her ideology,” he said. “And so with our portable cameras positioned around the [legislature] grounds we were able to monitor the comings and goings of the crowd. And it proved beneficial, because we identified groups with very different ideologies that could potentially cause a volatile situation.

“And so with early intervention, we had members approach these individuals. And as a result of that intervention and the previous knowledge, as it was happening, it allowed for a very peaceful demonstration.”

Despite their wide use, police surveillance cameras continue to pose lingering privacy concerns, especially as image quality improves and facial recognition software becomes more available.

Some critics say the cameras are not an effective deterrent and push crime into areas where cameras are not as plentiful. 

The Whyte Avenue pilot project resulted in a 2003 privacy complaint against Edmonton police. At the time, the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner determined that the use of video surveillance for investigative purposes was justified. 

In Tuesday’s release, Edmonton police said a privacy impact assessment was submitted to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta in 2019 to outline the pilot project and “ensure all privacy considerations are addressed through legislation.”

A police spokesperson declined to provide documentation of that review to CBC News. 



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