Pinellas Trail cameras are working, St. Pete police officer says
ST. PETERSBURG -- It's been four months since the city of St. Petersburg installed surveillance cameras along a six-block stretch of the Pinellas Trail in Childs Park.
The verdict, according to a St. Petersburg police officer who knows the project well: The cameras are working and the city should install more of them along the paved recreational trail.
"I wish we could have cameras all along the trail," said Officer Mitch Detty, who has sat on the Pinellas Trail Security Task Force for two years and has been involved with the camera project since its inception. "Everybody says they feel safer with them and at the same time it seems those who would do bad things are tending to avoid the area."
The city paid about $125,000 to install 16 cameras along a six-block stretch of trail between 43rd and 49th streets s. The pilot project was sparked by a string of incidents in the relatively secluded stretch of trail in the last couple of years — including a high-profile attack and robbery of a couple in early 2014.
Since the cameras started rolling in July, there have been no criminal incidents there, Detty said.
"That in itself tells us a lot about what it's doing," he said. "The lack of information is actually good information."
By contrast, there were two incidents on a section of trail further to the west. In one of them, a juvenile victim was robbed of his watch and other personal items by multiple suspects who are also believed to be juveniles, Detty said. Officers think the cameras, as they so often do, has displaced criminal activity to spots where no eyes in the sky are watching.
The trail camera feeds aren't continuously monitored but can be viewed at the police station and on laptop computers in police patrol cars. The department hasn't yet solved a crime using the cameras but they have been a helpful investigative tool to get descriptions of suspects and narrow down when crimes in the area occurred, Detty said.
Techincally speaking, the cameras are working "very well," said Evan Mory, the city's director of parking and transportation management. So far, they have not fallen prey to thieves or vandals.
Mory reiterated what officials have said from the beginning: the city never intended to cover the whole trail with cameras, but wanted to address "hot spots” to provide an additional deterrent. The city has about 9.5 miles of the trail in its boundaries, from Demens Landing to Park Street.
"With that said, once the pilot project has been in place for some more time and as we continue to review trends, there could be expansion in the future," he said.
Detty said the city should definitely expand the project both eastward and westward.
"The trail overall I believe is still a very safe place to be but it's a long stretch and in some parts are secluded so things happen," he said. "My recommendation is, if it's feasible and affordable, to do as much of the trail as possible."