Cedar Falls police have the cameras rolling, but it’s no reality show, or even training video. Police chief Rick Ahlstrom says they’re keeping an eye on a part of town where the college kids roam. Chief Ahlstrom explains “College Hill” is a small business district adjacent to the Cedar Falls campus of the University of Northern Iowa, an area of a couple city blocks or so with a mix of “licensed beverage establishments,” or bars, and other businesses like restaurants and retail stores. He says that part of town generates a big share of police calls received by his department. Over the years he says police have had “a number of issues” with College Hill, including a riot during homecoming 1996. The chief says they have to “upstaff” during events focused around that area of town, saying “people often make bad choices when they’ve been drinking” and that directly affects police calls. The idea to aim security cameras at the College Hill neighborhood came up last summer, as the chief was going over the “response plan” for this year’s October homecoming. He’d heard from other agencies and on the Internet about using cameras to monitor crowds, and as a crime deterrent. The city utility company was in the process of putting a wireless computer network, so the police department partnered with the internet provider to buy and install cameras just before homecoming. Two of the three cameras can be turned around to change their view, remote-controlled by police to adjust the direction and focus on spots they want to watch. The chief says scenes are taped sometimes, and saved, so the agency won’t allow the general public to view or control the cameras. While some complain about being watched, there are others in Cedar Falls who think it’s a great idea. Ahlstrom says the city’s required cameras in convenience stores and ATM machines for years, and they’re expanding the webcam system to the city’s downtown area later this spring. Businesspeople who heard about the University Hill cameras came to ask police for their own system, he says. For now, someone at headquarters will monitor the view from the three webcams. Once they get “network cards” changed in the computers carried in all the city’s squad cars, he says officers will actually be able to watch the cameras from their cars.
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