I always knew St. Paul had street cameras. I just didn't know that there were so many of them and that the picture quality was clear enough that officers can see when a suspect sneaks a firearm behind a fence and grab the license plate for a speeding car during a drive-by shooting.
St. Paul police have about 200 live cameras, most of which have fixed positions, said Commander Shari Gray, outgoing head of the St. Paul Police Department's technology unit. Many of the cameras are around the waterfront in downtown. There is also a handful of mobile trailer cameras that can be used in crime hotspots or at events where a large population is expected, Gray said. The live-feed cameras are monitored 24/7 by officers, who can pan the cameras and zoom in.
The monitoring officers can listen in to the police scanner and shadow officers on the street as they are responding to a call or keep a lookout for suspicious activity. Criminalists like Kelly DeHaut know to look for distinctive features of a vehicle or a person like tattoos to help identify the person.
"You don't always get the face shot," DeHaut said.
The department began using the cameras during the Republican National Convention in 2008, and continued to add to them throughout the years, Gray said. More and more CCTV videos are being requested each month by officers conducting investigations, attorneys and other interested parties, Gray said.
Earlier this month, someone reported seeing four men, one with a gun, near the bus stop at 5th and Minnesota streets in downtown. As police responded to the scene, an officer monitoring the CCTV feed who had zoomed in says over the radio that a man had dropped the gun near the fence before he was approached by police. Officers at the scene were able to locate the gun and make an arrest.
"We are watching for things to make people safe," said Steve Linders, a spokesman with the St. Paul police.
It costs more than $200,000 to maintain the cameras which does not include staffing, Gray said.
CCTV footage is shared with the city's emergency management and the Coast Guard, Gray said. As of right now, the CCTV monitored by St. Paul police is not linked with footage from Metro Transit or private businesses, but things can change in the future, Gray said.
"As technology grows, we are always learning," she said.