Lancaster Safety Coalition camera

In this file photo, a Lancaster Safety Coalition camera operates at South Prince and Conestoga streets.

The city is getting eight more crime-fighting surveillance cameras, bringing the total owned and monitored by nonprofit Lancaster Safety Coalition to 169.

The expansion is the result of a successful $100,000 capital campaign. The cameras are expected to be installed by the end of the year, increasing the system's coverage area to about 63 percent of the city.

"I am absolutely convinced that the city is safer because we have cameras," said Wes Farmer, coalition executive director, noting that police last year made use of coalition-recorded video evidence in 2,344 investigations.

The new camera sites are West Chestnut at Nevin, West Lemon at North Charlotte, North Franklin at Hand, North Reservoir at Sixth Ward Park, North Franklin near McDonald's restaurant, West Strawberry at High, East Chestnut at North Franklin, and East Strawberry at Chesapeake.

Two social clubs, the Rainmaker's Association Lodge at 700 E. Chestnut St., and the Riverside Camping Association at 730 E. Strawberry St., each contributed $10,000 for cameras near their facilities.

Other contributions came from foundations and private donors, including an anonymous donation of $33,333, Farmer said.

First fund-raiser

As the coalition expands its camera network, it has higher operation costs, budgeted at $420,000 this year, he said.

To help pay for operations, the coalition is planning its first fund-raising dinner, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16 at the Lancaster County Convention Center. The $100-a-plate dinner features an address by Jim Bueermann of the Washington-based Police Foundation and entertainment by illusionists Brett and Labrina Myers.

Besides Farmer, the coalition employs a staff of two full-time and nine part-time workers.

While all of the cameras record 24 hours a day, staff actively monitors the cameras 12 to 14 hours a day to report suspicious activity or to assist police with information as they respond to incidents.

Last year, coalition staff called police radio operators 461 times to report suspicious activity.

"You won't get an argument from law enforcement on why we need them," Lancaster Police Chief Keith Sadler said of the coalition's cameras, an outgrowth of the 2003 Lancaster Crime Commission report. "They are an integral part of what police do in the 21st century."

Shooter arrested

Surveillance video, for example, helped solve last week's shooting in the 600 block of Columbia Avenue that wounded a bystander. Police made arrests two days after the shooting.

"We got a lot of good information, but the cameras helped tie that in and lead to a quicker arrest," Sadler said.

One such call last month, Farmer said, resulted in an arrest after a camera monitor observed what appeared to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction.

Coalition staff notified police, who took the buyer into custody and recovered a cigarette pack with six heroin packets from the area where suspected dealers had been loitering.

"I use the analogy of picturing 161 people on street corners with cell phone video," Farmer said of his staff's work.

Besides monitoring live video, staff responds to police requests to go through recorded video to help an investigation.

This month, for example, a West Clay Street business discovered broken windows on a Monday morning. Video from the previous Friday night showed juveniles throwing stones. Police and school officials identified the juveniles from the video.

Staff preserves the video on a disk that it provides the police.

When police show a suspect video footage of a crime, it sometimes prompts a guilty plea, sparing taxpayers the cost of a trial, Sadler said.

"I think the Safety Coalition has a unique model that makes us extremely efficient and effective with the donor dollars we receive," Farmer said. "As a consequence, I think there is a good opportunity for us to expand in the future. But it's dependent upon community support and donor dollars."

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