When you pay your taxes, check out a library book or work out at the city fitness center, you’re likely on camera.
Local governments aren’t trying to sneakily record you. In fact, cameras are propped in obvious, easy-to-see spots because they want you to know you’re being recorded. Behind the scenes, no one is usually watching the video being taken of parking lots, building entrances or hallways. But it is being saved in case it’s needed later, with some governments keeping months of old video before it’s deleted.
As security cameras get smaller, work wirelessly and record digital files instead of recording on tapes, more cameras are being considered to protect workers and the people visiting public locations. Digital formats can allow months of video to be stored on hard drives. Some cameras can be accessed from other buildings and can even send text messages to staff if something unusual comes into the frame.
New camera systems cost a few thousand dollars to install, but the lenses poking out of ceilings or pointing off the side of buildings help make employees feel safer.
A camera could deter someone from trying to steal out of a car parked at Franklin’s aquatic center, catch someone vandalizing a park in New Whiteland or help police see what happened during an accident in a library parking lot, local officials said. But the cameras also help staff watch areas that they don’t usually supervise.
Johnson County Public Library added 16 cameras to its Franklin branch this year and is considering adding systems at its White River and Clark-Pleasant locations.
The county will add new cameras to its new east annex, which is under construction, because it will house the probation office. Since another court will be added to the north annex, the county likely will upgrade current cameras and add new ones before next year.
Franklin has talked about putting up cameras for the first time in outdoor parks as a way to prevent vandalism.
“I’m kind of finding that it’s getting to be the expectation from our patrons that there’s cameras watching,” Franklin library branch manager Sarah Taylor said.
‘Mainly for the safety’
When a person rings the bell at the back door of the Franklin library, staff can pull up a camera feed to see who is there. That’s usually maintenance crews, delivery people or an employee at the door; but library staff could never be sure who was on the other side until security cameras were installed this year.
The 16-camera system at the library wasn’t put in because of a wave of thefts, fights or suspicious people loitering around the library, maintenance director Kit Logan said. But if something did happen, police or other library staff could access the cameras from the library administration building and download recordings.
“It’s mainly for the safety of the patrons and the staff,” Logan said. “It’s not like anyone has come in and threatened anybody or anything like that. To me cameras are a good deterrent if anyone is thinking of doing something.”
An adult coming to pick up a child at school is going to be on camera at the front door at most Johnson County schools, and cameras located in parking lots or hallways inside the school are watching for students causing trouble. Cameras helped Whiteland Community High School staff track down students who were writing bomb threats last year, and outdoor cameras at Center Grove High School captured some students who spray-painted a skylight as a senior prank.
Having a camera at the school prevents some students from vandalizing school property or getting in fights because of the fear of being caught and helps administrators identify students who chose to do it anyway, Franklin Community Schools director of operations Bill Doty said.
“You may not be able to stop a graffiti or something from occurring on that one instance; but if you can track that down, you can prevent future incidents,” Doty said.
Franklin Parks and Recreation have used its cameras at the aquatic center and rec center to help review footage from crimes such as thefts, parks superintendent Chip Orner said. If someone lost a cellphone in a gymnasium, staff can look through the videos to see if someone stole it or just moved it to another part of the center, he said. Staff also has been able to check the parking lot outside the pool for break-ins.
The cameras at the city pool also have high-tech capabilities, such as being able to send an alert message to Orner’s phone if they detect someone late at night. The cameras can alert him if someone was climbing to fence at the pool but can differentiate between a person or a harmless squirrel based on the size, he said.
New Whiteland vs. vandals
New Whiteland has cameras at most of its properties, such as town hall and the wastewater treatment plant, and in its parks. The cameras are meant to discourage vandals, who may decide to damage playground equipment or spray-paint buildings, public works superintendent Wendell Johnson said. The cameras have captured video of vandals that could be turned over to police, although the footage has never led to anyone being arrested, he said.
Outdoor areas are harder to monitor because of their size, but Franklin has considered panoramic cameras for its parks, Orner said. Two years ago, someone stole a John Deere Gator out of Scott Park. Not only did parks staff not know who did it but not even how they got the vehicle out of the park.
“The park gate was locked. That is significant because there is physically no way out of the park when that gate is locked. So that would have been helpful to figure out how they got out,” Orner said.
When local governments are actually watching the camera feeds, it’s typically to help the limited staff watch over a larger area. At Franklin’s rec center, the person working the front desk can use the cameras to watch the gym and fitness rooms without having to walk to each of them, Orner said.
The same goes at the library, where a librarian may pull up the feed to watch the front desk while she’s in an office or peek into a meeting room to check on teenagers who are meeting for a school project, Taylor said. That’s made the new camera system more of a direct benefit than just watching over workers when they’re heading to their cars at night.
Securities camera aren’t just for banks, businesses and police departments any more. Office buildings, schools, parks and libraries also have cameras to keep an eye on workers and visitors.
Twofold protection: Security cameras protect people in two ways. First, they deter crime or bad behavior because people don’t want to be caught on film. Second, if an incident occurs, staff or police will be able to review the video to get a better idea of what happened and who was involved.
Will you know? Since prevention is part of why cameras are effective, cameras are often in places that are easy to see. Security cameras typically are pointed at high-traffic areas such as entrances, hallways, lobbies or parking lots.
Higher tech: Cameras aren’t saving to videotapes in a back room any more. Digitial recordings can be saved on a hard drive for months. Cameras are smaller, can be accessed from multiple computers or even off-site and can send alerts if they detect something unusual.