The perception of crime can often be as detrimental to small business owners as the threat of actual crime. Seeing a need to make consumers feel more secure, Cambridge Main Street partnered with Bay Country Communications, Bay Country Security and downtown businesses to bring outdoor security cameras to its commercial district.

Cambridge Main Street Executive Director Brandon Hesson will not disclose how many cameras were installed, but did say two were installed at the busy intersection of Gay and Poplar Streets, casting a wide view of downtown sidewalks and storefronts.

The goal is to deter criminals, like those involved in four high-profile armed robberies in the heart of the city over the last six months, but Hesson says the threat of crime has existed in Cambridge long before this summer and has been a focal point of his organization. A market analysis done by Cambridge Main Street in 2009 found “High Crime” to be the top answer in phone intercept surveys conducted in neighboring communities about the perception of downtown Cambridge.

“We know these crimes weren’t much different than the crime in other towns on the Eastern Shore, and for the most part, it was done by one or two people that our local authorities were able to aprehend quickly,” said Hesson. “But because we already had this challenge of others associating our city with crime, we needed to take these things very seriously and make sure we are playing an active part in deterring it.”

The idea began in March, well before any of the first reported incidents in July, during a conversation between Hesson and Bay Country Communications about another project.

Brian Roche, Chief Technical Officer for Bay Country Communications, explained some of the necessary infrastructure for a security camera system was already in place, or could be redirected fairly easily. Bay Country Security Sales Manager Brian Harrington brought his knowledge of the most current hardware and security technology, and then introduced a manufacturers representive from Interlogix, which manufactures security solutions across a wide range of platforms, from homeowner applications like smoke detectors, to small business security, to complex city-wide camera packages.

“Bay Country Communications has an extensive fiber optic network in Dorchester County,” said Roche. “Believe it or not, a locally owned fiber optic network is still a rarity for a community like ours on the Eastern Shore, so we jump at any chance to partner with non-profits like Cambridge Main Street, schools, governments, medical offices and bussinesses to leverage our fiber network to give them a competitive economic advantage.”

Using funds raised for the project, Cambridge Main Street purchased TruVision IP Open Standard cameras in polycarbonate, vandal-resistant bubbles. The video is fed to a recorder, where it can be reviewed after an incident, or monitored real time either on location or remotely through secure internet connections on a computer or mobile device. The software running the system can be set up to be motion activated and differentiate between day and night recording to ensure crisp video. More importantly, it can be easily incorporated into a larger camera program down the road, or receive the video from other existing devices downtown.

“One of the big concerns was making sure that we didn’t have something that was immediately obsolete when we extend this to other parts of our downtown, or if the city of Cambridge decided to institute a more robust system down the road,” said Hesson. “We were able to put together a nimble camera system that could be changed to fit our needs, without having to saccrifice performance or quality.”

Downtown security will be an ongoing project for Cambridge Main Street. Hesson says local business Resource Assett Management Solutions (RAMS) has agreed to share its knowledge of best practices and current technology to suggest possible upgrades to dimly lit parking areas. A volunteer effort is also underway to map current active cameras in downtown businesses, so authorities know which systems could have captured video necessary to solve a crime. The community is also urged to contact authorities anytime they see suspicious behavior.

“It takes more than one tool to build a house. There won’t be one easy way, and its going to take a community effort to keep our streets safe,” said Hesson. “We need to be proud of our city, and be willing to force things to improve. Everyone has a part, and we are happy to work with local businesses to help local businesses.”

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