Insurance money pays for surveillance

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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

UPPER MORELAND TOWNSHIP, Pa.--Town officials here have used grant money from the Delaware Valley Insurance Trust to install a $7,600 surveillance system at a public park with an in-line skating rink.
"We kept having problems with vandalism," said John Crawford, assistant township manager and director of finance for Upper Moreland. "We tried posting police officers and security guards, but we didn't have any luck." The park was right next to a public transportation line, and the offenders would come in from out of town late at night, hop off the public transport, graffiti the park, then catch the next train out.
"We had no opportunity for catching them," said Crawford, "so the parks director asked for cameras." The request for budget funds was turned down--"We didn't have any money for it"--so Crawford turned to the grant program at the Delaware Valley Insurance Trust, an organization set up by more than 50 Pennsylvania municipalities to manage their insurance and workers compensation needs.
Peter Erndwein, loss control manager at DVIT, said the grant program started in 2002. "The idea," he said, "was to provide funding for certain proactive risk-management projects." Upper Moreland has used the grants in the past for things like back braces for workers and bullet-proof vests, even signage in the parks, said Crawford, but the repeated vandalism called for innovation.
"When we first put the cameras in," he said, "we didn't see a decrease, but the police were able to catch some of them and we got a little bit of restitution. Then it really did drop off ... The cameras are working. It's cut down on our vandalism. It makes people going to the park feel safer, too."
Further, "We haven't gotten any community feedback about being watched by big brother," said Crawford. "The kids that are going there to play hockey, they could really care less. It's not the kind of thing where there's walking trails or benches where people might feel like they're being eavesdropped on."
Bob Hershman's Warrington Alarm did the installation. He said it was a standard bidding process, but it was the first surveillance installation he's done for a municipality, even though he's done "a lot of work with small towns." Previously, the work was centered around access control.
"We dug a trench, ran pipe underground," he said. "Everything is hidden and the cameras are high enough that people can't get to them. Everything is secure." Neither Hershman nor Crawford wanted to get too specific about the installation.
Erndwein sees a big future in using surveillance to mitigate risks for municipalities. "With the current crime and terrorism situation, the climate is better for using it as a tool for property and personnel protection," he said.
He mentioned specifically its ability to prevent workers compensation claims, both through keeping employees safer and investigating claims.
"The grant program, in terms of insurance providers, this is pretty innovative ... in fact, when we have our professional meetings, there has been discussion with other individuals about it and they're actively pursuing it."