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All eyes on Vidalia: security cameras keep city honest, safe

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — City of Vidalia IT Director Bob Buseck, left, and Information Systems Specialist Courtney Winston work on installing a security camera in the front dispatch office Friday morning at the Vidalia Police Department.

VIDALIA — While they don’t intend to come off as big brother, the City of Vidalia is in the process of installing surveillance camera systems throughout the new municipal complex and eventually the whole city.

The Vidalia Police Department is first on the list and is being outfitted with 18 infrared and night vision cameras throughout the building, including two on the outside that have the ability to zoom in more than 2 miles away.

For the police department, the cameras offer an extra set of eyes for officers and help keep a record of all complaints, arrests or violations, City Information Technology Administrator Bob Buseck said.

“We’re not trying to be big brother; this system is to keep everyone honest,” Buseck said. “They are all honest, but now it’s on record, just like everything else that happens in the city.”

Last year through a grant, the police department installed a two-part camera system in their vehicles that allows officers to take video from the front and rear of the car.

The cameras turn on once an officer hits his lights to initiate a traffic stop.

Once an officer steps out of the vehicle, he also has an external microphone and camera on his uniform that turn on to begin recording.

The video from the patrol cars gets uploaded to a video server at the department and the officers turn in memory cards for the lapel cameras at the end of their shift.

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Assistant Police Chief Bruce Wiley holds up his cell phone, which has an application to view a live stream of the different surveillance cameras at the department.

“The officers themselves have no ability to edit or change the video whatsoever,” Buseck said. “These videos allow us to document and have on record exactly what occurs during a traffic stop or an arrest.

“It’s for the safety of the officer and the person being brought in.”

The new cameras cover every inch of the 8,000-square foot police department building — from the lobby entrance to the booking room and holding cells.

The video feeds are monitored in the dispatch room, the IT department and can even be accessed via smartphone by Police Chief Arthur Lewis and Assistant Police Chief Bruce Wiley.

“It offers the department an opportunity to be a second set of eyes on a certain location,” Buseck said. “If they need (Assistant) Chief Wiley to watch what’s going on, he can log on to his computer or from his phone and watch the video feeds.”

And while the police department might be the first to get the new cameras, Buseck said City Hall and the fire department are next on the list.

“The same cameras the police officers have in their cars, they’ll have in the fire trucks,” Buseck said. “If the firefighters have the lapel cams on, they can review the footage after an emergency situation and use it for training to become that much better.”

All the cameras were budgeted for in a $6.94 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to be paid out over 40 years that financed the municipal complex.

Even the new recreation complex next door to the municipal complex will be outfitted with several cameras on the various playing fields.

“Say you have some parents that are home sick or if their grandparents can’t make it out to the fields, they can sit at home and log on to watch their kids play ball,” Buseck said. “For safety reasons, they won’t be able watch everything, like the police department cameras, but they’ll have access to certain recreation cameras during baseball games.”

The cameras are just one part of the city’s overall goal, the Vidalia Broadband Initiative, which will install fiber optics into every home and business in the city.

Once fiber is installed throughout the city, the police department will be able to control the security cameras at the riverfront and others eventually installed throughout the city.

“This is all part of one big network that we’re trying to create for the City of Vidalia,” Buseck said. “All of this is to make Vidalia a safe place to live and to keep being the city on the move.”