The city of Dover Police Department now has the capability to monitor and prevent crime using 35 surveillance cameras.
They are haunting images: a man pulls a handgun and fires eight shots at another man. The victim, mortally wounded, staggers away. The shooter pockets the weapon and leaves the scene.
With the flick of a computer key, the images can be run forward, backward and freeze-framed. We are watching the end of a human life, which can be played out over and over again.
But it’s not Hollywood and it’s not a script: it’s downtown Dover, and the murder is real. But like Hollywood, it has been captured, in real time, forever.
The victim was 19-year-old Quamere Bowden, who was gunned down Dec. 19, 2011, near the intersection of South New and Reed streets in Dover. His killer was 16-year-old Matthew Hoskins, who was arrested the same day.
And although the video was not needed to convict Hoskins, it was instrumental in the department’s finding a witness to the crime. Hoskins, now 19, was charged with first-degree murder, and now is serving a 15-year-term for manslaughter and weapon possession.
Bowden’s death was captured through the use of what is now a network of 35 surveillance cameras, scattered through downtown and other areas of Dover prone to criminal activity.
‘Seeing is believing’
The cameras have become a vital tool in the war against crime in the capital city, said Dover Chief of Police James Hosfelt.
“It’s like having an officer on every street corner,” Hosfelt noted. When it comes to documenting a crime, seeing is believing, he added.
The city’s crime surveillance system had its genesis in late 2009 with six cameras, provided by funding from the Downtown Dover Partnership, and has been extended since with grant money from several sources, Hosfelt said.
“I think that we wanted to come up with ways of making the downtown a desirable and safe place to be,” said Dover Mayor Carleton E. Carey Sr. “I felt that by putting in some security cameras, we could give people a sense of safety, a way of detecting crimes and a way of solving crimes.”
“It welled up out of continued discussions at the Partnership,” said Gary Patterson, who was president of the Downtown Dover Partnership at the time. “It was an effort to improve safety since that was perceived to be a problem downtown. There had been some incidents that had tarnished the downtown’s reputation, especially at night.
“I think it’s turned out to be remarkably helpful,” Patterson said.
Manufactured by Honeywell, each camera provides the department with a wireless, high-definition color image that also can deliver coverage in low-light conditions. Mounted on a six-inch-wide base and contained inside a protective dome, each camera is essentially vandal-proof and can provide a 360-degree view from its vantage point.
The field of view and focusing also can be controlled manually if necessary.
Images from each camera are saved on servers located at the police department, and can be retrieved at any time, Hosfelt said. Video from the system has proven admissible in court, he added.
The cameras are mounted on utility poles, with no attempt to hide them. The bad guys know where they are, Hosfelt said, and that works to the department’s advantage particularly when dispatchers must handle approximately 10,000 calls per month.
“If we get a call for an area where we have a camera, we can use it to see what’s going on,” Hosfelt said. “That allows us to direct our resources to where they’re needed.”
‘A safer downtown Dover’
Knowing what’s going on even before officers arrive on the scene has proved an invaluable asset, Hosfelt said. In one August incident, a camera picked up the image of a man pointing a high-powered assault rifle at a Dover officer who was responding to a call about shots being fired in a neighborhood. The man was quickly arrested, Hosfelt said.
The cameras also provide valuable information when a crime already has been committed, he said, with the Bowden killing being a case in point.
As soon as reports came in about a man being shot, dispatchers found images of the shooting. Those images clearly showed the murder taking place, as well as the witness leaving the scene.
“We probably would not have identified the witness without the cameras,” Hosfelt said.
In another incident, cameras spotted a group of men getting out of a car, yanking hoodies over their heads and pulling out weapons. Police responded quickly enough to prevent a planned home invasion and possible murder, Hosfelt said.
Although some argue the use of surveillance cameras can infringe on personal rights, Hosfelt said that has not been the case in Dover.
“That’s an absurd argument,” he said. “If you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.
“But if you are, shame on you,” Hosfelt said. “We’ll catch your image on the camera and we’ll arrest you for the crime you have committed.”
To date, Hosfelt added, there have been no formal complaints from civil libertarians or people comparing the video system to the constant monitoring of everyone’s lives in George Orwell’s “1984.”
Instead, the chief sees the cameras as an extension of the department’s 93-person force, albeit one that never gets tired and never needs a break. He hopes to install additional cameras as funding becomes available.
“The more cameras I have, the greater chances we have of catching criminals,” he said.
“In return, we’ll have a much safer downtown Dover.”
Carey said he’s pleased with the work done so far by the cameras.
“It’s been great,” he said. “We’ve found some problems, we’ve prevented some problems and we’ve solved some problems by having the cameras.
“We’ll be looking to add more as money becomes available.”