A camera posted at Ninth Street and Main Avenue for Snowdown was a “huge success” for law enforcement, according to the Durango Police Department, and now the agency is looking to a more robust and permanent public-surveillance system for downtown Durango.
DPD is considering installing six surveillance cameras in downtown Durango as part of “a huge effort to work smarter with less presence,” said Deputy Chief Brice Current. The agency tested video surveillance at the Snowdown Light Parade earlier this year and found the system’s analytics useful for tracking identified individuals, he said.
Software connected to the surveillance system gives law enforcement the ability to identify individuals in a crowd and track their movements. The system could be useful for tracking lost individuals, solving a crime or identifying how a suspicious package made it to a specific location, Current said.
But the camera used for the Light Parade was just a trial, and DPD is now looking to companies such as Avigilon – a Canadian-based company that designs, develops and manufactures artificial intelligence-powered security solutions – for a more permanent system, Current said.
Any decision to install a surveillance system downtown would require approval from Durango City Council.
DPD is not looking for software with facial recognition systems, controversial technology that has sparked a nationwide debate about a balance between privacy and public safety.
The agency is most interested in technology that allows law enforcement to search video for a specific person, offers a notification system for suspicious activity and provides easy integration with private surveillance systems around the city, Current said.
“You don’t have to have people sitting there looking at screens,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the video will probably never be viewed.”
But Thomas Downing, general manager at Gardenswartz Sporting Goods, said he doesn’t feel comfortable with Durango police installing cameras to watch the downtown.
“It seems like, for our small little town, it’s overkill,” he said. “To me, the question is: ‘Is this really necessary right now?’”
Downing, who has lived in Durango since 1993, said a proposal to install surveillance downtown feels a bit like “Big Brother” from George Orwell’s dystopian classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
LeAnne Brock, a bartender at The Irish Embassy, said she and some of her colleagues thought of the omnipresent government surveillance described in Orwell’s novel when the first camera was installed. But surveillance footage takes some of the pressure off bartenders to help law enforcement solve a possible crime, she said.
“It does make us feel a little safer,” Brock said. “Most of our bartenders are women.”
Edie Engelsman, a bartender at Orio’s Roadhouse, said a surveillance system downtown “doesn’t bother me. If you don’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.”
Installing cameras downtown may alleviate the need for a robust uniformed officer presence in the city’s central business district, Current said. But the prospect of fewer uniformed police officers downtown could create a sense that there is less security, not more, Engelsman said.
“If they’re going to choose one or the other, I’d rather see them in person,” she said. “Their presence is more known, and not everybody is going to know there are cameras up there.”