Cameras added at low-crime complex

County installs $170,000 system at Hilltop Housing in Ellicott City

Disorderly conduct top complaint, police say

August 24, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County housing officials are installing a digital video surveillance system at the county's public housing complex in Ellicott City, though serious crime is not a problem there, according to county police.

The $170,000 system at Hilltop Housing, off Mount Ida Drive near Main Street, is considered a precaution, according to housing officials.

"We want to add security for the residents and prevent vandalism. It's been in the works for about three years," said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director. Money for the cameras comes from a portion of local real estate transfer taxes that help support housing programs.

Vaughan said tenant board members at Guilford Gardens, a 100-unit co-op built as public housing in 1980 on Oakland Mills Road in Columbia, also are discussing the idea. Recently, cameras were installed on three Howard Transit buses as a wireless-technology test for a private firm.

County police spokesman Pfc. Dave Proulx said statistics for the first eight months of this year show mostly nuisance crimes at Hilltop, with 28 disorderly conduct calls ranking as the most prevalent complaint. One burglary and four assaults were reported in that period.

"These are quality-of-life concerns," Proulx said, and the cameras may help deter disruptive behavior.

Several residents at Hilltop welcome the cameras, though several teenagers at the complex complained about them. The cameras are unobtrusive, housed in rounded, white pods at the top of long metal street-light-style poles set in concrete.

They are recording images on a hard drive, said Neil Gaffney, the deputy housing director. Vaughan said that when the system is fully operational, he will be able to see the pictures from his desktop computer. No staff members will monitor the views in real time, Vaughan said.

"It makes you feel safe. To me there's no problem," said Raymond Johnson, president of the Hilltop Tenants Council and a resident since the 94-unit complex was built in 1970. A 24-unit building for seniors is under construction at Hilltop, which was built to replace a row of ramshackle, flood-prone, wooden rental homes without indoor plumbing along Fels Lane.

County Housing and Community Development Board member Michael G. Riemer said board members thought installing the cameras was prudent.

"It's gotten to be the thing of today. We mostly felt it was a protection for the people living there," Riemer said.

Several teenagers at the complex disagreed, complaining that there is already too much police presence in the complex.

"No one likes the cameras. You have no privacy," said 14-year-old Brittany Kelly, who was standing in front of a row of townhouses at the complex with several friends.

"Nothing happens around here," so security cameras aren't needed, said Nickie Collins, 14.

"I feel violated with cameras. If you try to do something, you'll get caught," said Chris Whitaker, also 14.

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