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Hancock's candid cameras fight vandalism

April 18, 2001

Hancock's candid cameras fight vandalism



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - If you're in Hancock, you might want to smile for the camera.

For the past few months, the town has used hidden video cameras to monitor activities in public areas that have been targets of vandals.

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Hancock has at least two cameras the town purchased with a federal grant secured by Police Chief Donald Gossage, Hancock Police Department Sgt. Shawn Tasker said.

Gossage installs the cameras on town property and on private properties with the owners' permission, Tasker said.

At this month's town meeting, Gossage told Town Council members the camera footage has resulted in assault charges being filed against two people.

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The locations of the surveillance cameras are known only to Gossage, said Town Manager Louis Close.

The cameras are necessary because the town has only one police officer on duty at any given time and that officer can't be everywhere, Close said.

He said the town has had difficulty finding places to put the cameras because they require electricity and must be concealed.

There has been no public announcement about the cameras and most residents probably don't know they are being filmed, he said.

Close said he doesn't think the cameras are intrusive.

"It's a crime-fighting tool to help police solve cases that usually go unsolved unless there is an eyewitness," he said.

"It's too bad we don't have more of them," said Close.

The cameras are not an invasion of privacy, Tasker said.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy called the town's use of surveillance cameras progressive. He said the town will not post signs to warn people they are being filmed.

"We're well within our rights," he said.

The cameras will be a deterrent to vandals once the word gets out, he said.

Close said vandals have struck at the town pool and parks, breaking up property and spraying graffiti.

"It makes me furious. I don't understand the mind of a vandal," said Murphy.

"It's a nuisance problem. Even if there is no permanent damage done, repairs still cost money," said Close.

He said vandals have destroyed picnic tables that cost the town $175 each and rolled trash cans and spilled the contents.

"The kids are restless. Maybe we can catch a few and get their parents to pay, then the kids will have to pay the consequences," said Close.

Hagerstown City Police used surveillance cameras a few years ago but stopped because of logistical problems, said Sgt. David Long.

The city's coverage area was too large and the camera's focus too limited for them to be very useful, he said.

Long said camera footage holds up in court cases but conversations cannot be legally recorded.

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