HANFORD — Two of Hanford’s parks will soon have 24-hour surveillance on them to ward off increasing crime-related activity and vandalism at city-owned parks.
At its Aug. 1 meeting, the Hanford City Council approved the purchase of a combined $20,000 in surveillance camera systems by the Hanford Police Department to put in both Civic Center Park and Lacey Park.
Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever said with these surveillance purchases, he is hoping to monitor the parks more closely and deter some of the criminal activity that is occurring in those areas.
“It’s difficult to give the parks the attention they need when we don’t always have the ability to send officers out there,” Sever said.
Although there are also concerns at other city-owned parks, Sever said Civic Center Park and Lacey Park are the two main parks with the most criminal activity. Lacey Park in particular had experienced a 43 percent increase in calls for police services from 2015 to 2016, he said.
Examples of the crime-related activities occurring at the parks include drug use, homeless disturbances, drinking alcohol on park premises, fights and vandalism.
Alvin Dias, parks superintendent, said vandalism is an issue at all the parks, but a bigger problem is drug paraphernalia being found at Lacey Park. He said the drug users will leave their messes behind and others will find things like hypodermic needles.
Parks staff clean the parks daily, but they can’t always find everything. In one instance, Dias said kids found drug paraphernalia inside one of the playground’s tunnels.
“That’s stuff kids should never have to find,” Dias said.
Dias said he’s gotten a lot of complaints from residents who live near the parks about the excess trash and people always hanging around the parks doing things they’re not supposed to.
When vandalism took place inside the park bathrooms, Dias said he began to lock them up at night, which only led to people using the hallways to relieve themselves, thus creating more work.
Dias said it takes a lot of time and manpower to clean all the parks, and he hopes the surveillance cameras will aid the police to more quickly catch people engaging in criminal acts.
The cameras, purchased from QPCS, a company that specializes in remote surveillance cameras, are extremely high-quality, Sever said.
“They can make out a license plate from two football fields away,” Sever said.
Sever said each park would have two remotely-controlled cameras; one will be a fixed camera and the other a pan/tilt/zoom camera. The surveillance systems will be monitored in the Hanford PD dispatch center.
Officers can’t sit and watch the cameras all day, though, so Sever said the cameras will record video 24/7. If a crime occurs while officers are not monitoring the cameras, he said they can go back through the recorded video to watch and gather the information they need.
In addition, the cameras will have the ability to be monitored by any computer in the city, including computers in the Parks and Recreation Department, Sever said.
Dias said it would be great to have access to the surveillance cameras to be able to have more eyes on the parks and help the police department out.
The cameras will also have attached speakers, giving whoever is watching the cameras from the dispatch center the ability to speak to people in view of the camera. This way they can intervene during a fight or warn people that they are doing something wrong.
Sue Sorensen, Hanford’s vice mayor, said though the price of the systems may seem a little costly, she thinks the cameras are a “wise use of funds” and believes the interactive system will allow officers to be more responsive to public safety issues.
“To have the opportunity to be able to verbally respond to someone in the park is pretty impressive,” Sorensen said about the camera speakers, adding she also likes the fact that multiple departments can see the surveillance.
Sorensen said Hanford has put surveillance systems in other parts of the city, but nothing as advanced as what the parks are going to get. She said she hopes the cameras will persuade citizens to follow the law better.
If all goes well, Sorensen said surveillance cameras are definitely something the city could use in other problematic areas in an effort to be proactive and keep the community safe.
Because the purchase of the surveillance systems was just recently approved, Sever said the cameras at Civic Center Park and Lacey Park won’t be installed for another couple months. The cost of the cameras will be funded by park impact fees.
Sever said he hopes to eventually bolster services to all the parks and expand surveillance to the other parks sometime in the future.