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Ocean City

Boardwalk cameras out to bid again

(Dec. 13, 2013) Despite a slight hiccup in the bidding process this week, the city fully intends to go forward with a massive security upgrade to the Boardwalk that will feature real-time monitoring of security cameras along the resort’s main attraction.

City Council was slated to accept bids for the installation of the cameras and associated wiring this week. But despite a strong interest from vendors at previous meetings, only one legitimate bid had been received. Another was submitted late.

“I’d hate to go forward with this taking only one bid,” said City Engineer Terry McGean.

Council voted to reject the bids and re-solicit proposals from contractors. Once a contractor is selected, the project is to be completed within 120 days.

The city spent $76,000 this time last year on hardware for a new network on the Boardwalk, including 10 new cameras as well as fiber-optic cables, switches, and servers. Much of that installation was done when the Boardwalk was rebuilt this past year, with the actual mounting of the cameras in the coming weeks being the final step.

Most importantly, the city has further plans to allow the new cameras, as well as the nine that already exist on the Boardwalk, to be actively monitored. Although tapes can be reviewed by police, no one is currently watching what’s happening as it happens.

“Obviously they’re not helpful in stopping crime as it happens if they’re not monitored,” said Councilman Brent Ashley. “I’m assuming that now, if someone sees something happen, they can radio a police officer.”

The city’s current interface will allow for active monitoring, McGean noted, once the city purchases screens and other necessary apparatus. These will likely be run out of the city’s 911 dispatch center in the Public Safety Building on 65th Street.

“We already have the video control software,” McGean said. “We actually have over 100 cameras, mostly at the Public Safety Building, but it all works through the same software system.”

“We have priced two workstations and a large monitor wall for the dispatch center to monitor not only these on the Boardwalk, but all the city-owned cameras.”

McGean said he and other city staff had visited similar facilities in Baltimore to find the most efficient means of monitoring. There, a single operator will have access to dozens of cameras, but will not be monitoring all of them simultaneously. Most keep constant tabs on nine key angles, and can pull in other views if they need to look at something specific.

“Generally, those personnel learn which cameras are the most useful,” McGean said. “They’ll usually pull up those nine, and have access to others that are in their district. They can pull up other cameras when they see something happen. It was very interesting how they managed it.”

The city’s Emergency Services Department is “currently working on how they’re going to do the staffing,” McGean said.

Although the city has had plans for years to improve the Boardwalk’s electronics, and add more cameras, the idea to have them actively monitored by law enforcement was pressed forward this past summer. Following a series of high-profile crime incidents, city leaders were on edge about the public perception of the resort and how it is being policed.

“Just knowing they’re there helps a lot,” said Council President Lloyd Martin.

Others have questioned whether or not the effort will have the desired effect, and why the city was rushing into a potentially costly monitoring program despite having never before monitored the cameras the town already has.

“Does the council believe that we’re heading into an inner-city environment, where we need cameras?” questioned local landlord and frequent council critic Tony Christ. “Do we think that it would be prudent to get some feedback on the cameras we have sitting there, rather than never looking at them?”

“They don’t just have them in inner cities,” replied Mayor Rick Meehan. “They have them in Towson, in College Park, and office buildings around the country.”

“I don’t think this was something the council just thought up, I think it was something the police department sought and is integrated into as well.”

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