Yale Daily News

On Monday night, the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee voted in favor of a plan to place 500 crime surveillance cameras and additional ShotSpotter technology around the city.

The Board of Alders’ Finance Committee met over Zoom with New Haven Police Department leadership and members of the public to discuss the plan and its estimated budget. The plan was approved unanimously by the Finance Committee and its ultimate fate will be decided by a full Board of Alders vote.

Funded by the White House’s American Rescue Plan, or ARP, the $12 million initiative aims to deter violent crime in the most heavily impacted parts of the city through a combination of surveillance and IT advancements. The plan was first spearheaded by Mayor Justin Elicker’s administration with the support of the NHPD. Elicker previously claimed that “cameras don’t lie” when it comes to criminal activity. 

“Physical public surveillance and civil liberties can coexist, if they’re implemented correctly,” NHPD Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson said during the meeting.

The NHPD presented a powerpoint proposing a reallocation of $12 million of the $20 million in ARP funds the city set aside for COVID-19 relief. Only $1 million of the award has been used in the past year. If the proposal is approved by the Board of Alders, $2.5 million will be reserved for various NHPD IT infrastructure projects, while another $3.5 million will be reserved for the NHPD’s computer-aided dispatch and record management systems. $600,000 will be spent on supplemental overtime work for officers over the next three years, including investigations and patrols. An estimated $3.8 million will be spent on cameras and $1.2 million will be spent on ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system. The NHPD will also spend $400,000 to encourage lateral police transfers to the department. 

Chief of Police Renee Dominguez compared New Haven’s current spread of 190 cameras to the 1,200 cameras used by the Hartford police and 1,600 cameras used by the Bridgeport police. According to Dominguez, parts of the city with higher violent crime rates like Westville and Fairhaven are currently lacking sufficient camera surveillance and ShotSpotter technology. 

“[ShotSpotter] is saving us time, making us more efficient and allowing us to solve crimes, and to link crimes … the linking of the shell casings allows us to see trends, see pictures and to realize if we’re having a spike in a certain group, and be able to address those needs better,” Dominguez told the committee. 

Dominguez also supported the plan for increased surveillance by discussing New Haven’s low rate of solved murders compared to other cities, where she has seen police departments quickly solve crimes that were caught on camera.

Alders Anna Festa and Charles Decker expressed concerns over facial recognition technology in cameras, but Dominguez said the cameras would only be able to recognize license plate numbers. Decker additionally asked if police departments in other cities knew for certain that surveillance was the source of crime reduction. Citing lower crime rates in Chicago, Jacobson replied that “people got used to, ‘Oh, there’s cameras.’”

“I don’t want to say the wrong terminology too — it’s not that you’re being watched, it’s ‘Hey, let’s all watch each other,’” Jacobson noted during the meeting. 

Despite the plan’s price tag, police officials maintained that the initiative would save the city money. One presentation slide totaled the costs saved by investing in lateral officer transfers rather than new recruits; Jacobson mentioned that technology spending by the police in Chicago saved funds that would otherwise be used to respond to crime.

Several community leaders testified in support of the plan over concerns regarding the ongoing harms of gun violence in the city. Amid the discussion of civil liberties, some speakers portrayed the plan as helpful to minority communities. No community members testified in opposition to the plan.

“This technology upgrade will allow the police to police smarter … when it comes to responding to and investigating shooting incidents in our city, especially in our BIPOC community,” said Reverend Kelcy Steele. “We are tired of our children dying, we are tired of senseless gun violence.”

Other testifying community members included Project Longevity’s program manager and former NHPD detective Stacy Spell, Ronald Huggins of the Youth and Recreation Department and Kim Harris of the Newhallville Management Team. Speakers argued passionately for higher surveillance, citing concerns for youth safety and personal experiences with violence.

After Acting Controller Michael Gormany presented findings from the city’s pre-audit report, Alders unanimously voted to give the proposal the green light. Decker, who maintained he was still somewhat skeptical about ShotSpotter, admitted that public testimonies helped sway him in support of the resolution.

 “The testimony of the public did move me, the folks that we heard from are real community leaders, who are out here dealing with the effects of violence every day,” Decker noted. 

New Haven has seen 13 homicides between June and October. 

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.