KELOWNA - Surveillance cameras, as a hot button topic, just ain't what they used to be in Kelowna.
In less than 15 years, Kelowna has gone from a city where the installation of a single surveillance camera prompted a public backlash and a warning from the privacy commissioner to where the multiple cameras the city now operates downtown don't seem to bother anyone much at all.
“From all our feedback, that’s what we’re hearing,” the city’s risk manager, Lance Kayfish, says of the city’s current surveillance program. “It’s something people recognize in 2015. With everyone walking around with a video cam on their iPhone, there is a different expectation of privacy. And there’s the expectation that it can enhance security.”
From that first camera beside the Bennett Clock on Queensway Avenue, the city now has 15 external cameras in six locations downtown, plus an unspecified number of cameras in both the Chapman and Library parkades.
That includes the original street camera at Queensway plus two more at Leon and Lawrence Avenues on Abbott Street.
Other cameras are trained on both the washrooms and water park in City Park, the washrooms in Stuart Park and the interior of Kasugai Garden. Waterfront Park has yet to have a camera installed there.
Most of the cameras are not monitored and footage from them is made available only after the fact, at the request of the RCMP, and then only through a strict process governing the limited number of city employees who can see the files and make copies of them for police.
The exception is the Chapman parkade where Kayfish says security staff can live monitor the cameras throughout the parkade and intervene or call police if someone is up to no good.
Kayfish says each camera has its own operational policy associated with it that governs how long the footage is kept (from just a couple of days to months in the case of another surveillance camera located at the Glenmore Landfill.)
He says the efficacy of the cameras is hard to measure, but notes RCMP are making more frequent requests for footage from the cameras during investigations.
“There was a stabbing at Queensway recently, the RCMP asked us to provide our footage but they also grabbed it from all the local businesses in the area as well,” Kayfish says. “You can’t go into most grocery stores or retail outlets without being on video. They are peppered with cameras.”
Plans are to install another surveillance camera under the newly-redesigned Queensway transit exchange in 2016, as well as build a central security office where Kayfish eventually foresees live monitoring of the multiple cameras by a full-time security officer.
“It’s pretty easy to do. These cameras are essentially Internet devices so you can pipe back the data where ever you need to."
And Kayfish isn’t ruling out installing more cameras as needs are assessed. He says the city is at the point where it needs to revisit and update its entire surveillance program.
“We’re already looking at what we are going to do to to make sure downtown is as safe as possible.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.