Olde Richmond Civic Association receives $50,000 grant from PTSSD for Safe Streets security camera system initiative
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2017 issue of the Star.
By Melissa Komar
Would-be criminals better think twice before breaking the law in Olde Richmond Civic Association territory.
There will soon be almost 200 pairs of eyes watching at all times.ORCA was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Penn Treaty Special Services District (PTSSD), which it will receive at the Jan. 18 PTSSD meeting.
The funds will go toward expanding “Safe Streets,” the civic’s town watch initiative to assist the 26th Police District, helping report crime and promoting safety in the community by installing a security camera system.
In February, ORCA started the Olde Richmond Town Watch to help quell an uptick in quality-of-life crimes in the area and raised $9,000 to buy security camera systems for approximately 40 homes in the ORCA boundaries.
The ultimate goal?
To put a security camera system on each block in ORCA, which adds up to approximately 200 cameras.
Security systems cost $219, and 150 more systems will be available for installation thanks to the grant. It will also cover for each block that has a system to have a town watch sign installed.
“We don’t want to see crime ever, so if the camera system functions dually as a protective measure and a deterrent, all the better,” said Daniel Martino, ORCA member and town watch founder. “We would like to keep as much petty crime out of our neighborhood as possible. It’s about strengthening the community, and we can act as a liaison between the community and the police.”
While the town watch leaders are reacting to Facebook posts, they’re also using hard facts to encourage residents to get the systems.
ORCA zoning chair and PhillyBlotter app creator Chris Sawyer sends a crime report of the area to ORCA president and Safe Streets founder Don Gould each morning, and Gould gets to work.
“Any time that Sawyer sends me a report and I see some activity, then we’ll go and flier that block and try to get a security system on that block,” Gould said.
The ideal situation?
It’s a corner property.
Any household having the system installed is required to have two cameras set up on the front of the house, but four cameras are included for free (you can have up to eight on the system).
Getting four cameras on a corner property allows for “the whole intersection to be covered.”
So, is ORCA turning into Oceania, with Orwell’s “Big Brother” constantly watching the residents?
Not at all.
“I cringe when I hear that, because that’s really not what our intentions are,” Gould said. “We’re not vigilantes, we’re just supplying information and video to the police and just trying to help out.”
“Don had the right analogy: ‘Every time we give out a system, we’re getting a set of eyes on a block,’ ” said Christopher Sherman, ORCA member and UnTag ORCA anti-graffiti program creator. “Now there’s a community member there that cares.”
The resident is the owner of the system and the only person who can view the stream of the system (on a television, computer or phone). ORCA does not have access to the system once it’s installed, and there’s no overall main viewing system.
“We only ask that if there’s an issue, you give us a copy of it and we forward it to the police,” Gould said.
Aside from protecting your assets, the hope is that the initiative will encourage more interaction between residents.
“We’re giving people not just the ability to protect their own property, but to be a part of their neighborhood and say, ‘If your house is broken into up the street, I’m going to volunteer and say you can see my footage,’ and by doing that from the bottom up, you encourage that cooperation among neighbors and build the network,” Sherman said.
So, how does this impact you?
If you live in ORCA territory, you could be that extra pair of eyes.
Anyone in ORCA territory can apply for the security camera, with the condition that you pay for installation and have the system registered with Safe Cam.
ORCA provides two electricians to give estimates for installations to residents. If a community member knows a licensed electrician, they can also provide an invoice to get a system.
The only catch?
If there’s already a system on your block, you’re most likely out of luck.
While there may be a home in the middle of a block and one on the corner with systems, it’s all about optimizing the field of vision.
“It happens all the time where a community member gets a system in the middle of the block and then their next-door neighbor wants one,” Gould said. “But we can’t because it’s about covering as much area as we can.”
Spreading them out allows for ORCA “to see criminals coming and going, where as one block they might be walking casually and the block they’re planning to rob, they throw their hood on,” Martino said.
And ORCA admits there are some quirks that come along with the initiative.
Members offered anecdotes at a February meeting about neighbors knocking on other neighbors’ doors at early hours in the morning demanding footage or catching a glimpse of the sweet old lady down the street going outside after midnight in heels and a risque robe.
One community member compared it to Netflix.
“I put [the stream] on, I’m up in the den on my recliner and I just watch,” she said.
(She found a nasty note in her mailbox and after watching the camera, she identified who the kids were.)
But, overall, ORCA means serious business and the security systems are having a positive impact on the community.
People graffiting on local businesses have been caught red-handed and most recently, a suspect was identified in a residential burglary.
You may have heard about Benny, the 3-year-old pit bull who was being fostered by Nick Franco and Kari MacDonald (He was on the front page of the Daily News).
Thanks to Benny, a burglar who was still in the house when the couple arrived home jumped out a second-floor window.
What you may not have heard about is the ORCA camera systems that helped identify the suspect.
“We checked the camera footage of several of the neighbors and we managed to get a pretty amazing video of the guy,” Martino said, “and the police, in turn, used that, and we put out a screenshot at the request of the police to get a name and within 24-hours, someone came to us with the information.”
Commanding officer of the 26th District Capt. George Kappe can attest to the impact the security program has had on helping solve crimes.
“We receive video from a couple sources, mainly from private residences and businesses,” Kappe said. “Cameras from within the ORCA boundaries, as well as other areas of the 26th District, have provided video that has been helpful in assisting us with a number of investigations.”
While the immediate goal is to have every block in ORCA covered, the town watch hopes the Safe Streets initiative might rub off on some other nearby civic associations.
“We’d like to see the civics bordering us copy this,” Gould said. “We love to be a model and learn from other groups.”
ORCA residents interested in having a security camera installed can contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org or Don at email@example.com. For updates on the ORCA Town Watch, visit the Olde Richmond Civic Association Facebook page.