Crime & Courts

Volunteers will monitor Old Town cameras, but ‘absolutely not’ to issue traffic tickets

‘I hope people don’t perceive this as ‘Big Brother.’ ’

Wichita police are using cameras installed in the Old Town area for traffic enforcement. The cameras are monitored from the Fifth floor of City Hall. (Nov. 8, 2017)
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Wichita police are using cameras installed in the Old Town area for traffic enforcement. The cameras are monitored from the Fifth floor of City Hall. (Nov. 8, 2017)

A new batch of civilian volunteers is monitoring surveillance cameras for Wichita police — to help improve safety in Old Town, not to issue traffic tickets, police say.

“These cameras were put in with the intent to keep Old Town safe. They weren’t put in with the intent for traffic enforcement,” Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said Friday.

The volunteers are graduates of the Citizen’s Police Academy, a program that teaches civilians about policing.

Groups of two will watch the cameras from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Sunday. If they see a crime happening, they will contact Sedgwick County dispatch, who will dispatch emergency personnel.

They won’t send officers to pull you over for a minor traffic ticket, police said.

That practice came under fire a year and a half ago when the cameras were first installed.

“This isn’t about traffic,” Ramsay said. “When we first rolled out the cameras, we had some growing pains, and this is more along the lines of ensuring safety.”

Since then, the cameras haven’t been monitored as heavily or used for traffic tickets. They have been used primarily to investigate crimes and monitored during special events, Ramsay said.

Ramsay said he expects the cameras will help the department be “more effective and efficient” in preventing and solving crimes in Old Town, Wichita’s central nightlife district.

He said he hopes to expand the surveillance camera program to other areas of downtown and along the Arkansas River corridor, where a new ballpark district is being built.

The cameras provide high-definition, 24/7 surveillance. Some can rotate 360 degrees and zoom in close enough to read a license plate.

Charles Giberti, a Wichita police crime analyst who runs the surveillance camera division, said the cameras don’t record audio, don’t have license plate readers and will “absolutely not” be used for traffic enforcement.

“These guys are strictly looking for the wanton crimes ... the sorts of crimes that we hope if regular citizens saw that they would call and report,” he said.

The cameras also will not be used to monitor use of the city’s electric-assisted rental scooters, Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said.

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.
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