Housing authority board seeks better cameras for communities

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority is looking to upgrade surveillance cameras on its public housing properties.

Executive Director Tracey Snipes said a new Flock camera has been installed at Hoffler Apartments, the site of a pair of recent shootings. The camera was paid for by the Suffolk Police Department.

The housing authority has surveillance cameras on all of its properties, but the newer cameras would allow the Suffolk Police Department to have instant access to them.

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“The cameras that we have are not set up like Flock cameras,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Quinton Franklin at its May 24 meeting. “With the Flock cameras, they zoom right into the license plate. It’s like you’re going through the tunnel, and they get your license plate, not just the license plate, it gets a picture of the car.”

The Flock cameras are in use, or will be in use, in several Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater localities, including Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and Franklin.

Franklin said he is familiar with the Flock camera, as there is one in his own neighborhood and that of some police officers. He said that while the typical surveillance cameras in public housing can show what is going on, the picture is blurry enough that it can be difficult to discern what kind of activity is going on, and they can’t show a license plate.

The Flock camera is primarily pointed toward the rear of a vehicle and provides information on the type of car and when it had been in the area. The cameras are already in use in several Suffolk communities with homeowner associations, and company officials spoke of their effectiveness during a February City Council work session.

Council unanimously approved spending $100,000 to buy 27 Flock cameras and put in gunshot detection technology at the city’s borders and high crime areas. The money is part of a surplus from the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Company officials said at the time that the technology can also be useful in detecting stolen vehicles and helpful to police in many types of crimes and missing-person cases. Police Chief Al Chandler said he would like to have 50 Flock cameras to deploy around the city as the department is short-staffed by more than 30 officers.

The cameras cost $2,500 each, and there is a $500 fee to replace a damaged camera and a $250 fee to move a camera to a different location. The gunshot detection technology costs $25,000 per year per square mile, and the Suffolk Police Department will lease the technology under a two-year agreement, with the option to renew at the end of the lease term.

“We have been super helpful with the police department with our cameras of late,” Snipes said. “We do not have the capability of it for the license plate, but the overall resolution on our cameras, we are seeing what is happening on properties. It’s really good resolution on the camera and it’s finally gotten to our residents that for many years, the cameras were spotty where they didn’t work. The last couple of years, our cameras have consistently worked and the police department is coming to us on a pretty regular basis, pulling footage off of our cameras. Fortunately, we have had the footage.”

Franklin and Snipes, though, noted the difference with having a Flock camera.

They said if a gunshot goes off in the vicinity of a Flock camera, it will capture it on video, and it will go directly to the police.

Commissioner Anthony Parker asked about putting in Flock cameras in the White Marsh Pointe at Eagle Landing apartment community once the renovations to it are complete.

“I think it’s a good idea worth exploring,” Franklin said.