With a little help from local partners, the St. Augustine Police Department is going to have a few more eyes on the downtown area.
That will come with the help of a wireless camera system, known as WildFire, put in place as part of a partnership between the police department, Flagler College and the National Park Service, Police Chief Barry Fox told The Record on Wednesday.
The infrastructure of the system is already up and running, he said during an interview with Park Service Chief Ranger Kim Mayo and Flagler College director of security, Creig Doyle.
The cameras that are in place right now are all monitoring the parking lot for the Castillo de San Marcos.
That’s what the system was originally purchased for, Mayo explained.
The problem the Park Service had, though, was the recording equipment and the monitors for the cameras really needed to be housed in a facility with 24-hour monitoring capabilities, something Mayo said she didn’t have locally.
But Fox did in the communications center for his dispatchers and when Mayo approached him about the possibility of forming a partnership, he said was more than happy to help out.
“We were attracted to the program because we had looked at it before,” he said. “We knew if the Park Service provided the backbone, we could expand it to get coverage in the downtown historic district.”
The only thing they needed was “line of sight” between the Park Service property and the police department, which is where Flagler College — now providing roof space for a radio relay — came in.
“It couldn’t have occurred without them,” Fox said.
He has five cameras of his own on order that he plans to put in positions to monitor the downtown plaza as well as St. George Street.
For Mayo, the decision to add the cameras was primarily for the safety of visitors.
“Not just visitors to the fort,” she said. “But visitors to the city as well.”
Because the wireless system is expandable, Mayo said the Park Service may add coverage of the Castillo itself as well as the offices, and she and Fox are looking into the possibility of private entities adding cameras to the system as well.
If they do, they won’t get 24-hour monitoring of their feed, but the data and images will be recorded by the system.
Fox pointed out no one is sitting there monitoring the feeds now, but if the dispatchers happen to see something in the videos, they can generate a call.
That’s happened a few times already, he said, but that is not the only reason for having the cameras.
Fox said he is concerned about public safety, too, and is placing the cameras in places where traffic dictates the greatest need, not because there are specific crime concerns.
Nevertheless, he said, having the additional surveillance will be a positive for the department that polices a city with a vibrant and growing night life, as well as ongoing concerns with vagrancy, and has dealt with recent incidences of graffiti and vandalism.
“Hopefully it will be a deterrent and we will get some more resolution to other issues we’ve had,” he said.