Someone might be watching you in Helena

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 11, 2008

Criminals in Helena might want to pay attention to that prickly feeling that they’re being watched. It could be right on the money.

The city recently began using a portable video surveillance system, which can be installed in different hot crime spots around the city. The camera system, which has four independent cameras, runs on batteries and has enough memory to record for two or three days straight.

The system may be the biggest crime deterrent to hit the city in years, said Helena Police Capt. Tim Carter.

“Say we’re having a problem with construction theft in certain areas. We can find a place to set up the cameras and do surveillance using the camera, instead of having to send an officer out there for two or three days,” Carter said.

The video system is worth $20,000, but the city didn’t have to pay any of its expenses. Instead, the police department got it through a commercial direct-assistance program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The program also paid for Carter to travel to North Carolina to undergo training on how to use the surveillance system.

Carter said he plans to use that knowledge to train officers in the department’s investigative unit.

The system will serve as four extra sets of eyes when officers can’t be everywhere at once.

“It’ll just allow us to watch areas that we otherwise might not be able to watch,” Carter said. “There’s so many different ways it can be used. It’s so versatile that it’s hard to nail down one particular thing it will be used for.”

Helena Police Chief Doug Jones said the system would give the Helena Police Department an extra advantage.

“It’ll give us something we’ve never had,” Jones said. “If we have an area we have some problems in, we can actually pull up a video. We can set this up in a vehicle or somewhere.”

Carter said such a system is so cutting-edge, not even police officers can always achieve the same results.

“This kind of system has only been out for a few years, and it’s one of those things we needed on a number of occasions in the past several years,” he said. “Unless you have a system like this, there’s nothing that can replace it.”