BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Emergency Phones – Update
February 18, 2012, 3:43 PM
Filed under: Beach, CRA Districts, Downtown

Update March 8, 2012:  The CRA Board voted yesterday to scrap the camera aspect of the emergency phones and to install the phones already purchased in the ArtsPark and around the downtown garages.  Spots for eight of the phones have been identified.  Commissioner Furr requested that another be located in the Dog Park down by Pembroke Road.  IT Director John Barletta was reported to be exploring a different type of camera set-up based on a privately owned wireless network, but this appeared to be in an exploratory stage only as no details were presented.  The entire cost — both purchase and installation prices — of up to 10 phones for downtown (and maybe dog park) will be borne by the Police Department’s forfeiture funds.

February 18, 2012:  Those with long memories will recall Police Chief Wagner back in 2008 announcing a plan to curb crime by installing  emergency phones with zoom/tilt cameras in the downtown Parkside and Royal Poinciana areas. The City subsequently purchased ten of these phones which have been in storage ever since.  For a variety of reasons this project has repeatedly stalled, but now we’re told the emergency phone/camera project will be on the CRA Board’s March 7 agenda. An additional ten phones will be discussed for the beach.

There’s been both controversy and lack of clarity about this project for at least three reasons:  (1) the cost, (2) technological complications related primarily to the cameras, and (3) whether the phones will function more as an attractive nuisance than a crime deterrent.  And finally, with the proliferation of sophisticated cell/camera phones now in the hands of so many private citizens, the question has to be asked (and not just dismissed) as to whether the emergency phones are a project more appropriate to yesterday.

1. The Cost

After the Sun-Sentinel reported the ten downtown phones with camera attachments would cost $450,000 ($45,000 per phone), many reacted with shock.  How could the City afford such a costly project?  What we’ve learned is that the City’s cash-strapped General Fund will not be tapped for this project.  Instead the CRA has committed $100,000 and the rest is to come from LEAF funds (Law Enforcement Assistance Funds).  These latter funds can be spent only on police-related projects.

While the phones have already been purchased, the cameras have not. The projected cost breakdown we’ve received from Bryan Cahen, CRA Finance Manager, is as follows:

Phones – purchase price $47,111.75
*Cameras and wireless network $239,753.10
*Poles for video $8,244,10
**Installation/electrical $150,000
____
* Wireless network and poles are required for cameras, not for phones
**Installation costs would be reduced if camera component is not purchased

2. Cameras

A wireless video network must be set up for the camera component of this project.  In other words, wi-fi.  The Police Department, which has taken the lead in promoting the emergency phones, defers to John Barletta in the City’s IT unit when questions are raised about the feasibility of such a network in the downtown, given potential interference from tree cover and tall buildings. (The Beach is another story, because the broadwalk is a more open environment.) Given Mr. Barletta’s role in the failed city-wide wi-fi venture, we are uneasy at the thought of deferring to him on yet another wi-fi project.

Assuming the network could be made to work reliably, the video feed would be transmitted to the City’s 911 Communications Center.  How monitoring this feed would complicate the already-complex 911 staff work has not been explained, to the best of our knowledge.  One city staffer told us the cameras would be live 24/7 and continuously monitored by the Police Dept.  But one elected official told us the cameras would come live only if someone made a call on the emergency phone.  What is the plan for the cameras?

3. Attractive Nuisance

Is video surveillance a significant crime deterrent, greater than the phones, as some have advocated?  Or is it unworkable downtown, or too costly? And if so, will the emergency phones without video be more likely to attract pranksters and vandals?  These are open questions. 

Conclusion

Everyone can have an opinion on the questions this project raises, but opinions without sufficient back-up facts are not helpful in the difficult decision-making process required to make our community as safe as possible. We look forward to a clear, reliable presentation and discussion of both emergency phones and the video component — both pros and cons — at the March 7 CRA Board meeting.


8 Comments

These phones will scream…WARNING, THIS IS A VERY BAD AREA…DO NOT LIVE HERE, SHOP HERE, OR PLAY HERE.

Spend the 450K on more code/police. You get what you pay for Hollywood.

Comment by Hollywood Helper

“…to me the cameras are much more important than the phone if they capture a crime when it is occurring. Many times a victim cannot get to the cellphone. A passerby might, but so many people choose not be involved. ”

And how does that relate to the Emergency Phones?

If you can’t get to your cell phone, which is on your person, how are you ever going to make it down the block to the Phone?

Hollywood does not have the manpower to monitor the cameras so they aren’t going to stop a crime, only record it so we can find the criminal later. While finding the bad guy is certainly important, finding them after the fact does very little for the victim.

Comment by Chip

I agree with Mayor Gunzburger, the cameras are the most important part of the project. I remember discussing these camera/phones at the US 1 Task Force meetings several years ago. The neighborhoods wanted these, and I want them along Federal Highway. I remember comparing these to the Japanese having a police person on every corner or so and how that did work well for them. With us not being able to have someone on every other corner the Chief suggested these machines. I feel that the constant video surveillance would be helpful in stopping crime and catching criminals. We’ve seen that happen already. It seems appropriate also that LEAF funds would be used because of all the drug related and prostitution arrests made along our corridor. I am sorry we need these and perhaps one day they can be removed. But right now, seems like a good thing to do!

Comment by Tiffany Grantham

As usual, enough due dilligence has not been done. Spend without a good fiduciary responsibility and understanding of the total picture. Why would you purchase anything before having a realistic study of the total cost, and operability. Typical of poor planning and execution in Hollywood government. If the current wireless network system has never properly functioned, what makes them think a Wi-Fi system and security cameras and emergency phone system all cooped together will work? Another flawed plan. Seriously, when will Hollywood ever get it’s act together?

Comment by Linda Wilson

Even A two year old child learns not to touch a hot stove after being burnt the first time. John Barletta burned us so bad on the WI-FI issue that the Interim City Manager found it necessary to appoint Mr Lalla as Director, Finance, and information Technology with a $12,000 raise during the financial crisis. We now have two Directors of Information Technology listed on Item #14 on last month’s update presentation on the Johnson Control project. The CRA has received over TWO HUNDRED MILLION Dollars of TAXPAYER MONEY (that only benefited a few select people) in their 32 years of operation. LEAF funds should be used in other areas that have the same issues North of Johnson and South of Washington out of the CRA on Dixie HWY. and US1.

Comment by Pete Brewer

With the Federal Government giving free cell phones and 250 minutes a month to anyone below the poverty level or on food stamps it is difficult to see the need for land lines.

Comment by Thomas Morley

Although I have no opinion as to whether the operating system would work, to me the cameras are much more important than the phone if they capture a crime when it is occurring. Many times a victim cannot get to the cellphone. A passerby might, but so many people choose not be involved. Remember the airport Rolex thief was caught because of a surveillance camera.

Comment by Sue Gunzburger

They’re going to have to do a great of convincing for me to believe this is something that should’ve been done. I’d also like to know what company got the lucrative work. You’re correct; Mr. Barletta’s record is questionable.

Comment by Charlotte Greenbarg




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