Tremont residents irked by security camera snafu

by Jerleen Justus

(Plain Press, June 2011) In 2006, Tremont West Development Corp. (TWDC) began taking steps to join the “Big Brother” regime. The Tremont Network Video Recording (NVR) System base station would be housed at the TWDC office {2406 Professor Avenue} and administered under the auspices of the TWDC (Board) Safety Committee.


The NVR System is a computer based video recorder designed to retrieve live and still images through the use of a web browser and can store up to ten days of raw footage. TWDC Board Minutes indicate that by mid-2008, the Twi-fi and camera network had been installed, twelve wireless cameras had been strategically placed and activity in the Tremont neighborhood was now being recorded.

Videotape obtained from the cameras would be provided if needed as documentation or as an aid in the investigation of reported incidents.  Access would be limited to the TWDC Safety Committee, law enforcement and camera owners.

In recent months, it has been determined that nine of the crime deterrent vehicles are either dysfunctional, damaged or were never installed to begin with and that “Big Brother” had been caught sleeping on the job. At the March 14, 2011, Safety Committee meeting, TWDC Board Member Henry Senyak stated that there was actually only one fully functional camera and that one hung on the front of the TWDC Office building and was hardwired into the NVR Central System.

Word of the security camera washout began to seep from the organizations infrastructure after complaints had been made to the organization that unsolved crimes were being committed in full view of the cameras. While the Tremont community at large was never advised nor made aware of the fact that the neighborhood watchdog was crippled, research of records and minutes clearly indicate that as far back as the summer of 2010, certain staff, board and committee members knew of the malfunctions.

While currently efforts are being made to fix the problems, many residents find it hair-raising that neither of the two cameras perched on TWDC Board member Sue Coy’s West 5th Street property nor the one on ex-board member Deane Malaker’s home captured images of shysters sweeping through the Tremont area on a sunny summer afternoon (2010) and making off with a load of resident homeowners’ aluminum downspouts.

Malaker, who not only served on the TWDC Board, but also served as chair of the Safety Committee for a two-year stint, stated in an e-mail dated February 19, 2011. “I have one of the cameras mounted on the back of my garage overlooking part of the alley behind my house (Novak Ct.), and also capturing a view of W. 7th St. looking north. Steve Finegold installed it, and I have an antenna in my garage attic that transmits a signal to the TWDC station on Professor St., except that it has never worked properly to the point where now it doesn’t do anything except use my electricity.” Finegold, a Tremont resident with security expertise was designated by TWDC in 2007 to set up the security network.

In making inquiries to the Second District Police Dept. about the number of crimes solved with the aid of the security cameras, a March 8, 2011 reply from Commander Keith Sulzer states, “I would have no record of that nor do I have any recollection of any solved crimes in Tremont due to cameras.”

As TWDC Board and committee participants continued to discuss and question the failed camera project, some Ward 14 residents living in the Metro North Block Club area became even more irked when leaked information confirmed that the three cameras, purchased in 2008 with a $5,000 Neighborhood Connections Grant, had never been installed.

Standing on the corner of Scranton and Clark Avenue, one resident, who ask to remain anonymous stated, “What a rip off.  How many crimes have taken place that could have been solved if these cameras had been up and working?” The agitated father of three continued to vent his frustrations and continued further saying, “Everyday there are break-ins, robberies, assaults, rapes, crimes against our children, drug deals and other life threatening criminal activities that go unsolved. How could you have that many cameras and not know that none of them were working?”

On April 6, 2011, TWDC Executive Director Chris Garland issued an electronic statement saying that, “As of today, we have some cameras that are fully functioning and others that are still being worked on (for various reasons).  Five cameras are fully functioning and installed. Three cameras are (in Metro North) are fully functioning but not yet installed. Three cameras are still being repaired and anticipated to be up before the end of April (one of which is being relocated). One camera permanently out of service.”

Although earlier this year TWDC representatives denied ownership and responsibility for maintaining the network system, declarations printed in the October, 2008, Inside Tremont” newsletter stated,  “Cameras funded by grants are owned by TWDC, as it is the fiscal agent providing oversight for the grant-making body. The NVR system is owned and operated by TWDC. The entire camera program is administered by TWDC and the safety committee, as designated by the TWDC Board of Directors.”

Financing for the network system and wireless cameras was obtained through community block club participation and fundraisers.   Grants and other contributions were received from ArcelorMittal Steel, Tremont Trek and Neighborhood Connections. While TWDC will not confirm the dollar amount spent on the defunct project, it has been estimated that the figure ranges in upwards of $50,000 and as a non-profit 501(c)3, TWDC serves as a fiscal agent in trust of monies bestowed to block clubs and other constituent groups.

From the onset of getting the Security Camera Project up and off the ground, 2007-2008 TWDC Board President Sammy Catania, Safety Committee Chair David Mehring and Steve Finegold attended block club and other group meetings encouraging resident and business owners to join in and get on board with the safety network.

A request to view the central system setup was denied by TWDC Executive Director Chris Garland on March 6, 2011, stating that it would not be possible to stop in and view the system first hand and that the only review permitted was in the presence of the Cleveland Police Department Second District officers. Executive Director Garland indicated that they were in the process of getting the system back up and fully functional. He suggested that a demonstration might be possible in the future.

Just minutes before the TWDC Board meeting was called to order on May 19, 2011, Consultant Steve Finegold along with Board Members Henry Senyak, Yvonne Bruce and Board President Chris Alvarado, joined in a walk-thru briefing of the system’s recorder, monitor and wiring nestled in a nook of the TWDC offices. While Finegold did not have answers to all the questions and concerns about the system’s breakdown, he did state that some progress had been made and hopefully the network would be backup and running to full capacity soon.

In a prior telephone conversation, Finegold stated that TWDC was his client and all questions would have to be referred back to the Safety Committee.  To date, as the investigation continues, there are many uncertainties and misgivings surrounding the Security Camera Safety Program especially in the Metro North area.

In the spirit of crime prevention and public safety, currently there appears to be due diligence on behalf of all parties to correct the situation.  However, a number of questions still go unanswered.  No one seems to have the answer as to who actually signed off on the invoice for the $5,000, or for the purchase of surveillance equipment, which after nearly four years still remain in the boxes?

While some residents are still strong supporters of the wireless supervision, others are still skeptical and would like to know why no one has been minding the store.

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