The Brookhaven Police Department is set to implement a voluntary video surveillance camera system with residents and businesses throughout the city.

The program, called “Operation Plugged In,” asks business owners and residents who have video surveillance camera systems to voluntarily allow the police department access to their camera’s websites, said Chief Gary Yandura at the City Council’s Aug. 9 work session. Yandura said there would be no cost to the city.

The program is still in the preliminary stages. A website with FAQs and online registration will go up in the near future, Yandura said.

“We want to make this a safer city for all of us,” he said. The program is supported by the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce.

The program would work by allowing businesses and residents to register their cameras online with the police department and then give the department the passwords to their websites that stream the surveillance footage. Only the police department would have access to the footage, Yandura said.

With that access to the cameras, officers can view any criminal activity to use in an investigation. There is no plan at this time to have an officer dedicated to watching the cameras live, Yandura said, but the ability to do so is possible. The department would archive the footage.

Police currently have a surveillance camera located across the bridge on Colonial Drive in the Brookhaven Heights neighborhood. Officers can watch a live feed of that camera if they wanted to, Yandura said.

Yandura said the department is hoping to especially link up to cameras at businesses and parking lots of apartment complexes.

Councilmember Joe Gebbia said he wanted to mandate businesses located in “hot spots” of criminal activity install video cameras. Gebbia said a burden is put on the police department by having them respond repeatedly to the same locations.

“If you get three calls, boom, you have to put in cameras because we don’t have the resources,” Gebbia said. “I do think they should be mandatory in hot spots.”

City Manager Christian Sigman advised against introducing Operation Plugged In as mandatory but said in the future there may be a way to include in building codes that video cameras are required. Offering economic incentives to developers to install cameras were also discussed.

City Attorney Chris Balch said privacy issues and federal law are arguments that can be made against requiring video cameras be installed at businesses. He also cautioned against building code ordinances or other city permitting process mandating surveillance cameras because that could lead to a legal “slippery slope.”

Gebbia voiced frustration with businesses that have cameras only to find they don’t work when a crime does take place. Balch said businesses have made risk management decisions to install a camera in their business and are they are not part of law enforcement.

The cameras and video systems would also remain the property of the businesses and residents so that the police department would not be required to release footage as part of an open records request, Yandura said.

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