SANTA FE, N.M. — Big Brother is coming to the City Different.
On Wednesday, the Santa Fe City Council awarded a contract to Chavez Security Inc. to run a surveillance system of 34 cameras across the city.
City officials hope to have the system up and running in six to eight weeks, just as Santa Fe’s summer tourism season kicks off.
Santa Fe joins a growing list of cities across the country and world that are relying on camera systems to provide extra security.
Santa Fe cameras will be posted in 15 locations, including parks, trailheads and parking lots.
The cameras will start recording when movement is detected, city spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter said. At that point, an alert goes out to Chavez Security, which monitors the footage and, if necessary, decides what action should be taken
The cameras should serve as a deterrent to wrongdoing, McGinnis Porter said. Also, the images captured by the cameras are decent quality and could potentially be used by police to identify suspects and help in investigations.
“The quality is good enough to identify someone for forensics purposes,” McGinnis Porter said.
However, she noted that the cameras aren’t designed or set up to catch traffic violations.
A plan to install cameras near parks and other areas has been in the works for some time.
Parks officials said last year they were impressed with the results of a trial run with borrowed equipment placed at the Santa Fe Railyard Park. After a camera was installed in an area there noted for graffiti and vandalism, criminal activity stopped entirely, officials said.
Others aren’t so enthusiastic. Bruce Schneier, who writes about security and technology, has argued that pervasive security cameras don’t, in general, substantially reduce or help solve most crimes. Criminals simply adjust to cameras, perhaps wearing dark glasses and hats, for instance, Schneier wrote in a 2010 editorial for CNN. Also, police officers responding to something seen on camera usually arrive at the crime scene after the incident is over, he wrote.
The locations of Santa Fe’s cameras include the Atalaya trailhead at St. John’s College, the Jaguar Drive turnaround and open space, Las Acequias Park parking lot, Los Montoyas Unity Church trailhead, Patrick Smith Park, water tank area on Powerline Road, Railyard Park and a dirt parking lot on Zia Road.
The city’s public parking lots are also a focus. The Sandoval parking lot, Water Street parking lot, two spots in the Cathedral parking lot, the Santa Fe Community Convention Center parking garage and Santa Fe Railyard parking garage will get cameras, although some will be replacements for existing equipment.
Over the past few years, the parking division has suffered losses of at least several thousand dollars from embezzlement allegedly committed by city employees, and many of the new cameras will be angled to help monitor cash registers and cash exchanges.
New cameras will also be placed in the basement room at City Hall where the money collected from parking meters is counted.
The cost of Chavez Security’s contract is $253,717. On Wednesday night, Councilor Peter Ives noted the bid provided by the company was much lower than its four competitors. Those companies offered $546,679; $1.05 million and $1.25 million to do the job for the city.
“When I look at the bid sheets, there is a tremendous difference in the bid amounts,” Ives said.
City staff responded that the council had previously approved spending up to around $390,000 on the camera system. Chavez Security is owned by former city councilor Peso Chavez and has made millions of dollars over the past decade providing security to the city.
The cameras will be funded with $100,000 from the city’s most recent parks capital improvements bond, $123,000 of revenue from the city’s false alarm fund, and $30,717 in Parking Division money.