By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Another 'virtual block watch' could be coming to S. Pittsburgh

 


Warrington Avenue in Allentown may soon have a “virtual block watch” similar to one on Brownsville Road in Carrick.

Speaking at the Allentown CDC April meeting, Zone 3 officer Nathan Auvil explained after 14 cameras were installed in a two-block area on Brownsville Road crime dropped 63 percent. The cost of putting up the cameras was provided by Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak’s office with additional funding through area businesses.

“We’re looking at doing something similar here,” Officer Auvil said.

“In no way is this meant to be Big Brother,” he added. “It’s more or less to protect you guys.”

The officer walked through the 600 and 700 blocks of East Warrington Avenue, the target area for cameras, and identified which properties were residential, commercial, vacant land and also noted which properties were owned by RE360. Visually, he identified 11 existing cameras in the two blocks, but didn’t know what areas they viewed or even if they were working.

An initial plan calls for 16 cameras in the two blocks with signage designating the area as the “Warrington Avenue Virtual Block Watch.” Preliminary cost estimates for the cameras and signs is $8,000.

He said they would like to work with a local business out of Work Hard Pittsburgh in Allentown, Meta Mesh, on the installation of the cameras. Meta Mesh was responsible for setting up the Wi-Fi modules along Warrington Avenue providing a free connection to the internet in the neighborhood.

Funding could come through one of two ways: through the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office or through private donations by area businesses. He suggested the virtual block watch could be up and running sooner with private donations.

After funding is determined, next steps include surveying the businesses in the target area, deciding the best placement for the cameras and finally the installation.

Questioned why the 800 block wasn’t included, Officer Auvil said the 600 and 700 blocks are a “straight shot” and create a “shoebox effect.” If eight cameras are placed on each side of the street, neighbors will be watching out for neighbors.

He explained the 800 block creates an “L” shape with Arlington Avenue and would require more cameras to get started, possibly as many as 24.

It’s possible the block could be added to the virtual block watch in the future.

Stressing it wasn’t Big Brother watching, Officer Auvil said the cameras would be under the control of the individual businesses where they are installed. A non-police administrator will have access to the cameras, but no other one person will be able to log into all of the cameras on their own.

The Warrington Avenue cameras will not be linked into the city’s network of cameras.

Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Hilltop Alliance, said the cameras would be used in a “reactive” manner. If an incident happens within the view of the camera, the police would request access from the business owner to see if the crime was captured on video.

Ken Wolfe, president of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council, said the District Attorney was also approached about using money seized from drug dealers to put up cameras on East Warrington. He cautioned the cameras installed by the DA use a different system.

The DA uses their own vendors to purchase and install the cameras and puts them at “choke points,” such as well-traveled intersections. This DA’s system also tracks license plates.

He said they will know by May 24 whether the DA has decided to fund the Allentown project.

A resident asked if they were permitted to put up cameras on their own home and if they had to register them with the city. Mr. Wolfe replied they are allowed to install their own cameras and the city no longer has a registry of private cameras.

However, Officer Auvil said he maintains a private list of about 450 cameras in Zone 3, 200 in South Side alone. It speeds up the investigative process, he added.

“The end game, if you get video footage, it almost seals the conviction,” Officer Auvil said.

He asked if anyone had cameras or knew of cameras in their neighborhood, to email him with, at minimum, an address so the location could be added to the database. His email is: nathan.auvil@pittsburghpa.gov.

The next meeting of the Allentown CDC will take place at 6 p.m. on May 2 at the Allentown Senior Center, 631 E. Warrington Avenue.

 

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