More surveillance trailers approved for Fort Smith Police Department

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 3,962 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday (April 4) to use donated funds to lease additional mobile surveillance trailers for use throughout the city to add to citizen protection and safety.

The Fort Smith Police Department leases two mobile surveillance trailers at a cost of $50,000 a year. They were originally placed on North 50th Street and by Martin Luther King Jr. Park in the hopes of deterring criminal activity in the area. In response to concerns with the homeless population, one was placed in the downtown area last summer, said Police Chief Danny Baker. The reported reduction in nuisance complaints was almost immediate, he said.

“We use these trailers both for special events and to address specific crime issues where a virtual presence provides situational awareness, actionable intelligence, evidence, and deterrence,” Baker said.

Monday (April 3), the trailer from North 50th Street was moved to the Kelley Park Ballfields on Old Greenwood Road in preparation for the ball season to open there, Baker said.

“It provides some security and ease of mind knowing there is an eye in the sky watching the kids,” Baker said.

The department saw a need for additional trailers and negotiated a lower rate with a new vendor, reducing the cost to $12,500 annually per trailer. Along with the lesser price, the department received $16,648 from the Fort Smith Music and Arts Festival to go toward year one lease and committed to funding the same next year, Baker said.

“We will be returning the two (more expensive) trailers that are currently leased, and replacing them with four (less expensive) trailers from the new vendor for the same cost. We will then lease two additional trailers at an additional annual cost of $25,000 funded by the $16,648 donated by FSMAF, and $8,352 reallocated from within our current budget. Ultimately, we will have a total of six trailers at the cost of $75,000 annually,” Baker said.

The trailers are self-contained and operate off solar panels. They provide a 360-degree view of anything around it, live-streaming video continuously and recording video that can be accessed by the department for about 30 days, he said.

“They represent a highly commanding police presence wherever they are placed,” Baker said. “So it’s a very effective tool.”

Director André Good said he realizes the trailers are a good deterrent to further crime and believes that adding in more trailers for use throughout the city will alleviate concerns from some on the north side of Fort Smith that they are used to target a specific group or area.

“The one we moved to Kelley ballfields is from North 50th St. because the problems there have subsided. I feel comfortable deploying it elsewhere,” Baker said. “That is one of the challenges we will have. We will have to identify the demands for them and must prioritize where we place them.”

Director Neal Martin raised the issue of the city starting on a slippery slope in regards to surveillance that could border on invasion of privacy. Director Christina Catsavis echoed his concern about how these types of measures could lead to a surveillance state. Baker assured the board that the trailers are only placed so all that can be seen is what is in the public view.

“I believe in less government control of our lives. We are not going to do anything that is going to invade privacy. These are placed in very public areas. They can be seen. Anything we gather will be from a public viewpoint,” Baker said.

The surveillance from the trailers, by state law, cannot be used to write a ticket for running red lights or enforcing traffic laws, Baker said. It can be used to investigate traffic accidents. Officers can use the surveillance both as follow up in an investigation and for immediate response, he said.

“Fort Smith is fortunate to be an extremely safe city. Credit for that goes to the quality of people in the police department and the quality of the citizens,” said Director Lavon Morton. “To stay that way with the growth we are going to have, we are going to have to do things like ths. We have to be mindful and protect our citizens.”

The ordinance passed with a unanimous vote.