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Online shoppers get safer meetings

To avoid dangerous encounters between strangers, Mitchell's Department of Public Safety on Monday initiated a new program called the Safe Exchange Zone.

At top, Josh Harvey, assistant supervisor of Mitchell's Traffic Division, and Dick Figland, supervisor of the Traffic Division, install a sign for a new internet purchase exchange location. (Jake Shama/Republic)
At top, Josh Harvey, assistant supervisor of Mitchell's Traffic Division, and Dick Figland, supervisor of the Traffic Division, install a sign for a new internet purchase exchange location. (Jake Shama/Republic)

To avoid dangerous encounters between strangers, Mitchell's Department of Public Safety on Monday initiated a new program called the Safe Exchange Zone.

Officials installed a surveillance camera and a sign on the east side of its building at 201 W. First Ave., where people can meet to complete transactions from websites like Craigslist, eBay or Facebook.

"While many websites ... are very credible and are heavily utilized, their popularity make them an easy target for criminal activity from online predators," a media release from the department said. "The Mitchell Department of Public Safety is now offering a more secure location available for Mitchell residents to help enhance their safety and to minimize the opportunity for an encounter to go wrong."

The sign, which reads "internet purchase exchange location," indicates a place where online shoppers and sellers can meet and in a safe, monitored location. The program is being implemented across the nation as law enforcement take a stand against shady characters and crime related to online shopping.

Mitchell's new camera was donated by On Sight 24/7, a provider of security systems in Mitchell, according to Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg.

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The camera will provide a live feed to the department and will record everything that happens in the area. It is connected to a system that runs a series of cameras around Mitchell for monitoring and investigations, which Overweg said is "making our community safer through technology."

Other cameras are focused primarily on Main Street. Overweg said On Sight 24/7 installed a new camera downtown, which DPS purchased for between $400 and $500 in the last few months.

Devices are stationed at the 100, 200 and 500 blocks of North Main Street, as well as the public parking lot at the corner of Main Street and Eighth Avenue, next to TMA. But that doesn't mean they'll be in the same locations in the future.

"Just because they're there now doesn't mean they're going to be there next week," Overweg said. "They can be moved, so if we have an active problem in other places in the community, these cameras can be moved to that location."

An active problem could be recurring vandalisms, harassments or similar offenses, Overweg said. The cameras are typically moved a few times each year.

Surveillance for safety

The first cameras were installed between five and eight years ago, Overweg said, and they have provided video that has been used in court for incidents like assaults and hit and runs. The cameras could also help police file charges like reckless driving or running a red light, but Overweg said they can't be used to prove someone was driving too fast.

The system is set up as a wireless bridge, so video feeds can be wirelessly transmitted from one camera to another as long as they are in sight of each other. Otherwise, the department would have to provide internet access, which would require a monthly fee.

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At their current locations, live footage can be transmitted from each camera and be seen on screen in the dispatch center in real time.

In addition to the Main Street cameras, the department can also gain access to recordings taken from a number of other external locations, including about eight cameras installed outside the Corn Palace, about seven more outside the Department of Public Safety property, sky cams for weather and cameras installed by other parties on private property, including a couple owned by On Sight 24/7 downtown.

The cameras are expected to last between five and 10 years, but the department's oldest cameras are analog, and Overweg said he hopes to upgrade them to digital eventually as funding allows. He also said the department can build on the system, and one of the next locations to receive surveillance could be the parking lot on the 800 block of North Lawler Street, known as the disco lot, although no formal plan is in place.

"We'd like to keep building on this system in the future over the next few years," Overweg said. "The law-abiding citizen should welcome these."

As police continue to adopt new technologies, like body-worn and patrol-car cameras, Overweg said street cameras are effective tools for investigation and law enforcement.

"I think it's a common thing that many cities have already, and I think you'll continue to see this throughout communities in the nation," Overweg said. "It's very effective in solving crimes if we capture them on camera."

Anyone interested in donating a camera is urged to contact the Department of Public Safety before purchasing, as the digital camera must be compatible with the system in place.

Related Topics: POLICE
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