'SCRAM' surveillance likely for Midland's downtown core this month

·4 min read

Rainbows do have a way of attracting many sets of eyes, and that includes themed crosswalks it seems.

A motion put forward by Coun. Bill Gordon to add cost-effective surveillance cameras overlooking a recent intersection of public interest was defeated as council was informed of a probable police security camera program coming to Midland later this month.

The intersection of Bay Street and First Street in downtown Midland has been under fire by council, town staff and the public for its hazardous crossing, which was recently quelled as a four-way stop was installed at the intersection against staff recommendations. In addition, an inclusive rainbow crosswalk is set to be painted along its west side in upcoming weeks.

Gordon provided an overview of the previous regular council meeting, raising the spectre of liability in going against the Ministry of Transportation requirements for a four-way stop. As well, Gordon spoke to recent defacements of similar rainbow Pride crosswalks and their propensity to become vandalized as, he said, could be a sad inevitability.

“We already witnessed what a really good, relatively-cheap camera can show us at that intersection,” said Gordon. referring to footage recorded by intersection-adjacent business owner Scott Campbell of Grounded Coffee and uploaded to YouTube prior to the last council meeting.

“So why wouldn’t we do that as a municipality?” Gordon asked as per his motion, further describing that two cameras mounted to a pole atop Grounded Coffee, pointed at both the intersection and the crosswalk, and fed to offsite cloud storage could be obtained for around $1,000 as he had priced it.

Coun. Cher Cunningham saw value in downtown surveillance, but looked at Gordon’s motion as a “piecemeal” proposal on one building and intersection but not the core streets, stating that data collection would be reactively complaint-driven instead of a proactive justification for council’s decisions.

Cunningham then asked for an update on the town’s surveillance programs, to which CAO David Denault responded.

“Over a year and a half, we’ve been trying to find a way to have a system that made sense for the downtown area,” said Denault. “We do have an application with the county which was supported by the BIA (chaired by Scott Campbell) and the police board to implement a SCRAM system.”

The SCRAM (Security Camera Registry and Mapping), as already launched in Orillia, enlists the help of community members to voluntarily identify their residential and/or business video surveillance location through a simple and secure online form. Identified addresses are mapped on a database of surveillance camera locations for police officers to quickly and effectively direct resources when investigating criminal offences throughout the city.

Mayor Stewart Strathearn asked Andy Campbell, executive director of environment and infrastructure, if security cameras at the intersection would mitigate liability as the town chose not to follow provincial guidelines regarding the four-way stop.

“The courts would make a determination,” said Campbell. “Certainly a camera would collect data, but data doesn’t mitigate liability. If an accident occurred because somebody made an error in driving, they’ll still argue that the signage was wrong, the intersection was wrong. That has nothing to do with the fact that they didn’t have their driver’s licence, didn’t have insurance, and that they didn’t follow the rules.”

In speaking with local OPP detachment commander Inspector Joe Evans, Strathearn remarked that some areas to install security cameras were looked at in conjunction with the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, which helps reduce re-victimization of property crimes.

“I think it would be in our best interest to roll this into the broader program,” said Strathearn, “and look at the best use of resources. And if Mr. (Scott) Campbell chooses to put his cameras in, in a way that deals with that, that’s up to him.”

Strathearn added that involving the BIA and the broader community within the SCRAM program was his recommendation to council’s decision, identifying that the county decision for SCRAM funding approval would happen on September 14.

“Once that happens,” Strathearn explained, “we will receive authorization pretty quickly thereafter because there is a (county-imposed) time limit.” Council voted to unanimously defeat Gordon’s motion.

Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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