WILKES-BARRE – The head of the city's Crime Watch Coalition said she's aware of a number of instances in the past year in which city cameras apparently failed to capture useful images of suspects or vehicles involved in crimes.
Charlotte Raup said the incidents, including a high-profile summer shooting on Jay Street in the city's Parsons section, have caused her to question how well the camera system installed in 2009 works.
Raup has long had concerns about the cameras, she said, but they came to a head after the Dec. 21 hit-and-run death of 5-year-old Kevin Miller.
At least five city cameras, operated by Hawkeye Security Systems, are located in the area the suspected vehicle traveled, including one camera directly across from the accident scene at West North and North Franklin streets.
That camera did not capture an image of the moment of impact, administrative coordinator Drew McLaughlin said, but it did get photos of the car that struck the boy.
Police chose to release other photos captured by cameras on private businesses, rather than the Hawkeye camera, because they provided the best image to identify the car, McLaughlin said.
It's not clear why the other cameras got better images of the vehicle. Raup said that issue, as well as other examples, raise questions about the system's effectiveness.
For instance, Raup said a police source told her that the suspect in the July 6 shooting of Kenyatta Hughston on Jay Street walked past a city camera.
That suspect, later identified as Shawn Hamilton, allegedly shot and killed three people in Plymouth the next day. He is awaiting trial for those deaths, as well as the death of Hughston, who died of his injuries several months later.
Raup said her source advised her that the city camera did not capture an image of Hamilton – information she says is corroborated by the fact police never released a photo of him even though he remained at large from July 6 to July 8, when he was captured in Philadelphia.
There was this big manhunt for this guy, she said. You would think they would put his picture in the paper. If they had it, they would have put it out there.
Raup also questions why police have not released a photo of a vehicle allegedly involved in a drive-by shooting Monday at a house on Hazle Avenue.
Raup said sources told her that vehicle sped past a city camera at Hazle Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. Police have not released any photo of the car, leading her to believe one does not exist. If they had a picture, don't you think it would be on the front page of the paper? she said.
Raup also frequently hears calls over the police scanner in which officers ask if the city cameras captured an image of a suspect, and they're usually told no, she said.
Told of Raup's comment on the Hazle Street incident, McLaughlin said the city will not respond to allegations made by anonymous sources. The police department stands by its policy not to confirm the existence or release video images that might be part of an ongoing criminal investigation or prosecution, he said.
There have been numerous instances in which city cameras played a major role in helping investigations, McLaughlin noted. The most prominent case was the Operation Square Deal drug bust in September. City cameras were used extensively to record drug transactions that resulted in the arrest of 22 people, police said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis also defended the city's camera system, noting it played a crucial role in disproving assertions that 14-year-old Tyler Winstead was killed last year in a drive-by shooting, as his friend had claimed. Police allege the friend made up the story to conceal the fact he accidentally shot Winstead.
As for the hit-and-run case, Salavantis said it's not surprising the camera nearest the scene was directed toward the intersection and not the middle of the road where the boy was struck. Nevertheless, that and other city cameras provided valuable information that led authorities to the suspect vehicle.
Obviously, no one can predict the exact location of where crimes will occur, she said.