“Safe Streets” video surveillance program aims for April launch

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Town has been developing additional video surveillance systems in conjunction with existing surveillance systems from the Ontario Provincial Police in order to combat gun and gang activity, investigate drug offenses and mitigate crimes in Fort Frances.

On March 24, the Fort Frances Police Services Board received a verbal update from IT Manager Jeremy Hughes relating to the status of the new video surveillance policy.

Hughes said he has been working with the town’s senior management team to develop a robust video surveillance policy and corresponding bylaws for the town. A draft of the surveillance policy has been completed and is being modified based on feedback.

Hughes said they have also been working with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to develop a memorandum of agreement that will grant secure remote access to the surveillance system.

Various options for independent internet connection for the surveillance system are currently being considered, he said.

The new surveillance program will also work in conjunction with OPP by providing private information that aids in crime investigations.

“I’m developing a grid layout of where every single camera is with spatial references, that follows suit so that if someone is tracking a suspect, they can go from point A to point B and have a universal reference frame for that. So potentially, you could add any other cameras to that grid,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the surveilled locations will have signage in the areas of entrance. Once installed around the downtown core, surveillance cameras will be bagged with an opaque surface after calibration until the appropriate signage is in place.

More information on the surveillance initiative will be available on the Town’s public website. The public can view more information about the program timeline, privacy agreements and intent, similar to the landing page for Thunder Bay’s “Eye on the Street” surveillance program, Hughes said.

He added that the website may include an interactive map for each of the town facilities that are under surveillance, without revealing the specific camera location points.

“Part of this process is we want to be as transparent as possible about the use of video surveillance while not compromising the security of that surveillance. So I don’t want to say, ‘here’s the recording server, it’s right there.’ But we’ll just say that we have these things,” Hughes said.

The name “Safe Streets” is currently being considered for the program.

Hughes said the intent is to get the program running as soon as possible, however there have been several significant delays.

Cameras were delivered to the town approximately seven months after they were ordered, Hughes said, leading to the delay in design and assembly of the wireless modem.

Wireless access point deployment was also delayed due to a firmware bug that has been verified by the manufacturer of the nodes. Furthermore, node assembly was delayed due to the availability of electrical parts and electrical scheduling.

“We’ve got a couple of them assembled, but they’re then going to have to go back to the electrician for final updates. We’ve also got, for example, one networking component that was ordered 12 months ago that is still outstanding. So there’s been a few delays, mostly due to shipping and global supply chain issues,” Hughes said.

“We’ve had cameras installed in the depths of winter as we can, just trying to progress this whole project. So something like that’s almost ready to go,” Hughes said.

Deployment plans have changed slightly based on input from the Fort Frances Power Corporation and changing electrical inspector requirements, which has led to additional costs and the modification of several node placements.

Hughes said they had originally planned to utilize all of the town poles such as the intercession streetlights, however are now looking for an alternate plan. “But it’s not changing the scope of coverage. It’s just adding maybe two nodes that are a little bit different in different locations.”

Hughes said the hope is to have the program running in April.

Councillor and Police Services Board member John McTaggart thanked the work being done by Hughes and his team.

“We signed up for this project probably almost a year and a half ago. We saw the potential of it. But I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of the work that had to go into it. And as I followed along and watched Jeremy working with this and bringing it all together, the size and the magnitude of it certainly became evident,” he said.

“I want to congratulate Jeremy and his team on bringing this together because it’s been a huge, huge job, and with all kinds of problems with supplies, but it’s going to be a great benefit for the town. And that’s why thank Jeremy very much for all this terrific work and for your report today too.”