ELKTON — The town’s camera system has expanded in number and moved down West Main Street in the last year, and top law enforcement officials say it’s working to deter major crime.
“I think [the cameras] are really serving the purpose of deterrence more than anything else,” Elkton Police Department Chief Matt Donnelly said. “People know they’re there, and it’s kind of altering behavior.”
In December 2017, Elkton decided to install four cameras facing the Main Street intersection Bow and North streets. Halfway through 2018, the town agreed to purchase seven more to expand the system toward West Elkton. The system cost $55,500 in all, and partially offset by a $5,000 grant from the Elkton Memorial VFW Post 8175.
Two cameras are stationed at the American Home and Hardware building, at the corner of West Main Street and Route 213.
“The chief is right, [the cameras] really have been a deterrent for any kind of illicit behavior that would occur in those areas,” said Capt. Joe Zurolo, an EPD spokesman. “We don’t have numbers, but it seems we don’t have much traffic in terms of people hanging out.”
In the past, Main Street was a draw for vagrants, who would often approach and harass those walking downtown. But with new businesses opening and jumpstarting downtown life, Zurolo said that type of behavior is in the town’s rearview.
Since the Main Street cameras were installed, EPD reports there has been only one notable incident. In late April, juveniles threw outdoor furniture over an embankment near East Main Cafe and knocked over some potted plants — all caught on a camera stationed outside the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse across the street.
Stills from the footage were shared on social media sites by Main Street Cafe operator Brittany Schwartz to generate some leads. An EPD school resource officer was able to quickly identify the juveniles, notify their parents and “referred them for charges,” Zurolo said.
Schwartz later pulled the post down at the EPD’s request after the case was resolved.
“I think the cameras are a great idea,” she told the Whig. “Crime is down, but I do think it’s because Elkton is changing, bringing in more businesses, than just the cameras. But it’s good to know people are watching. You’re not invisible, not like it used to be.”
The EPD do not have an officer monitoring the live footage of the 11 cameras, since the system’s hub is stationed at the Elkton Chamber & Alliance. Given the project’s budget, the town declined to spend additional money to link the service up at the police department.
Instead, one monitor above Elkton Chamber & Alliance Executive Director Jessica Price’s desk shows the direct camera feeds. By this point, it’s become part of her normal morning routine to turn the monitor on as she boots up her computer, turns on the lights and starts her day.
“I don’t really watch it, I occasionally do look at it like sometimes you look out the window from time to time,” Price said. “Sometimes I do when there’s a tractor-trailer making a turn, just so I make sure it doesn’t hit a fire hydrant.”
Whenever EPD does need to use the cameras, an officer would be sent down to the Elkton Chamber & Alliance to review it. Emergency Response Protocol, the company that installed and manages the camera system, can provide copies of footage upon request.
Donnelly and other town officials hope to continue growing its camera program in Elkton, specifically targeting the west side of town. Mayor Rob Alt said in the past his goal is to work his way to Hollingsworth Manor, a neighborhood that has long struggled to address crime.
But at the moment, there are two things stopping that: money and lack of infrastructure. Elkton passed a bare-bones financial plan for Fiscal Year 2020 due to little growth in property assessments, and with it came no funds to continue adding cameras to West Main Street.
Delmarva Power also prohibits hanging cameras from telephone poles, which makes expanding the program out of downtown Elkton a challenge, Donnelly said.
“All the light poles where we put cameras along Main Street are owned by the town, so it was much easier since it’s our property and our electricity,” Donnelly said. “Emergency Response Protocol has been working on it, but I don’t think they’re successful yet.”
The EPD chief’s personal goal is to install more cameras on West Main Street, and eventually across Route 40 near Hollingsworth Manor.
“If we had other hotspots we would put them in the area, but these are the areas where we’ve historically been cold on a regular basis,” he said.
Elkton also pays Emergency Response Protocol $585 per month for servicing charges.