SYRACUSE, N.Y. — There are 521 Syracuse Police surveillance cameras placed all over the city, but they didn't arrive overnight, and they haven't come cheap. The cost is now growing to keep them in working order.
The program got its start in 2011 with seven cameras on Syracuse's Near Westside. The first cameras were lobbied for by the Syracuse Police Department itself, but since then, according to the department and local officials, additional cameras came after neighbors asked for them in their neighborhoods.
The process starts with concerned neighbors who go to their local or state representatives. Assembly members Pamela Hunter and Bill Magnarelli, representing the city between them in the New York State Assembly, then secure the money for the cameras from the state. Syracuse Police then help finalize their location and get them set up.
The cameras cost between $12,000 and $15,000 dollars when they're new, depending on the model. Almost every camera in the city is covered by the state, and with 521 total, it means that around $6 million to $8 million worth of camera equipment is now being used by the police department in Syracuse. These cameras don't last forever in mint condition; with a shelf life of 7 to 10 years, the city ends up having to take on the cost of maintenance and repair.
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In 2020, the Syracuse Police Department budgeted $150,000 for surveillance camera maintenance. Every penny was used. For the 2021 fiscal year, that budget was increased to $175,000, and there are concerns that this may not be enough to cover the true cost.
"Most of them aren't breaking completely; they just need to be repaired. We can't afford to have some of them down," said Deputy Chief Joseph Cecile.
Cecile was part of the initial start of the program. He said the cameras, which are rolling 24/7 but cannot be monitored all at once, are crucial for the department. He claims they act as both a deterrent and as a tool to solve crimes that have already been committed, from larcenies to homicides.
"They have been what I'd call immeasurably helpful," said Cecile.
An "immeasurably helpful" tool that you paid for, and will continue to pay for as Syracuse Police look to implement more cameras in other neighborhoods. According to SPD, neighborhoods on both the Southside and the Northside are asking for cameras.
"It's something that's necessary as there's more lawlessness in our community and people just doing crazy things," said David Pilch.
Pilch is the director of Adult and Teen Challenge, an organization that helps fight drug addiction in Central New York. They've operated on Furman Street, between Midland Avenue and South Salina Street, for fifty years, all in a house that Pilch himself used to live in. He's no stranger to an area that he said has a massive crime problem.
"During the day it's pretty safe. I think it's in the evening and at night is when people feel that they can get away with things," said Pilch.
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His staff and some of the organization's residents would have learned about the potential danger on this street last year when stray gunfire struck the Adult and Teen Challenge sign in front of their building. No one was hurt, but that incident is partially why Pilch would be excited for Syracuse Police cameras to be installed on Furman Street to act as a deterrent.
That shooting began at the Blue Star Gas Station on South Salina Street, just around the corner, according to Pilch. One of the gas station's cashiers, Omar Hajer, says it's a dangerous area, with people constantly hanging around in the parking lot. He was the victim of a robbery just a few years ago and has called the police himself to erect a security camera on his block.
Not everyone, however, is convinced that cameras will get the job done. While there is clear demand from neighbors for cameras, other residents are hoping for greater action to address the root of the violence problem in the city.
"I still truly believe that other things should be done along with it that would help because this general area needs cleaned up a bunch," said Andrew Truskey, who has worked with the Adult and Teen Challenge program for the last three years after graduating from the program in 2017.
Neighbors want more cameras, but are skeptical about how much they can actually do.
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"I don't know if they help or not because these people don't care about cameras. If they gonna do something, they gonna do it," said Stella Hosea, filling up her car at the Blue Star Gas Station.
In our previous reporting on surveillance cameras, multiple people said they would rather see more Syracuse Police offers patrolling their area, giving a physical presence of protection as a deterrent. Other community advocates have said that increasing police patrols can help with community relations efforts, which to some, have been severed.
Chief Cecile agrees, but said they don't have the people to do it. The Syracuse Police Department is budgeted for 411 officers but only has 371 at the moment, meaning they have 40 vacant positions. A new class is expected this upcoming summer.
"Nothing prevents crime like officers patrolling your neighborhoods," said Cecile, "but if you can't get to that point, then these cameras are the next best thing."
It's a program that Cecile said the police department has no plans to end. In fact, they are looking to start using mobile camera units that can be set up temporarily in areas with spikes in gun violence or other criminal activity, according to Cecile. Those units will cost $5,000 more than the more permanent camera fixtures.