ActivePaper Archive Citywide surveillance OK’d for expansion - Hobbs News Sun, 2015-04-26

Citywide surveillance OK’d for expansion

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NEWS-SUN PHOTO Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall describes what the officers in the EAGLE IC can see in regard to any emergency incident where the system is needed.

The Hobbs Police Department continues to consolidate camera feeds across the city into a single surveillance system: the Emergency Action and General Law Enforcement Intelligence Center, also known as EAGLE IC.

The Hobbs City Commission unanimously OK’d the police department to begin phase II of the EAGLE IC program at this week’s meeting, casting a larger web of surveillance over the city.

Hobbs Police Chief Chris McCall successfully requested for commission approval to hire a private company, VIP Systems, to handle the expansion. VIP Systems worked on a previous project for HPD.

If successful, phase II would bring six more surveillance system’s into EAGLE’s orbit: the Lovington Highway walking path, Rockwind Community Links, the ZiaPlex, Martin Luther King Jr.

SoccerPlex and the Hobbs senior and teen centers.

Housed in the former police department on Dalmont, EAGLE IC currently uses 900-950 cameras, 800 of which come from public school campuses in the district. The rest come from major intersections, busy streets, retail areas and parks.

“We’ve seen some good results utilizing the cameras, everything from daily occurrences like traffic crashes to transmitting information in a robbery in another incident,” McCall said. “We were able to take a picture of the vehicle involved and put that information out to our officers rapidly. We want rapid, real-time information on incidents that are occurring.”

The city has $750,000 set aside in the current year’s general fund budget for the phase II expansion. But as the budget continues to tighten, McCall said it becomes more likely that phase II will be executed in two or three stages. The budget can only stretch so far.

When asked whether it wouldn’t be better to siphon some of that $750,000 toward social services as an alternative way to prevent crime, McCall countered an investment of that size isn’t too extravagant when it comes to law enforcement.

“I think as far as investing in safety and the community, $750,000 is well-spent to build a force multiplier,” McCall said. “It sits out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week with very little upkeep cost.”

Hobbs Commissioner Jonathan Sena also offered his opinion as one of the commissioners that voted for EAGLE IC.

“I believe in a holistic approach to making our community safer,” Sena said. “We partner with social service programs that do extraordinary work. But as a city commissioner, one of our number one jobs is to provide safety for our citizens.”

Sena argued the program could prevent school shootings and generally make public spaces safe.

EAGLE IC is watched over 18 hours a day. Officers are cycled into the operating center throughout the day in alternating shifts. But McCall said EAGLE IC is activated on an “event-driven” basis.

“It operates on an on-demand basis, which means it responds to calls in progress,” McCall said. “That’s how it primarily activates. So if we get a call, that’s what brings them into the picture and start loading the resources.”

“These aren’t red light cameras,” he went on to say. “We aren’t issuing citations or utilizing them for traffic enforcement in anyway whatsoever.”

McCall said Hobbs is only the second city in New Mexico to have an EAGLE IC program or one of its equivalent. Albuquerque is the first. But other cities have shown interest, McCall explained.

EAGLE IC currently operates without outside oversight.

“We have policies in place that govern the use of system,” McCall said. “We hold ourselves accountable to those policies.” When asked if the commission should be involved in the process should evidence arise that HPD personnel are abusing the system, McCall assured that HPD is capable of handling those cases. “We’ll take measures internally to correct that,” McCall said. “This relies on a huge piece of trust from the community. Just like everything else we do, we don’t want to violate the community’s trust. We want to maintain that good relationship.”

“I don’t want to go too deep into that rabbit hole,” Sena said. “With any department we have in the city and any program, whether it’s parks or EAGLE IC, I think whenever there’s a mistake or questions or concerns

— this is a democratic society — people should be able to engage their leadership in those departments, leadership in the city manager’s office or the mayor’s office. That is appropriate for any level and for any program.”

Sean Czarnecki can be reached at 391-5434 or reporter1@hobbsnews.com.