Police chief proposes bringing Project NOLA to Hattiesburg

By HASKEL BURNS,

In 2018, Project NOLA’s network of more than 25,000 high-definition crime cameras in New Orleans helped the New Orleans Police Department reduce the local murder rate to the lowest since 1971 – including a 9 percent reduction in homicides – along with a 12 percent drop in armed robberies.

Now, Hattiesburg Police Chief Anthony Parker is looking to bring that concept to the Hub City and has requested the Hattiesburg City Council to explore the option of allowing the initiative. The program, which is based at the University of New Orleans, provides cameras to residents, businesses and municipalities to help reduce crime by dramatically increasing police efficiency and citizen awareness.

“The Hattiesburg Police Department strives to be transparent and accountable with programming that we’re trying to implement,” Parker said at last week’s council meeting. “It’s our responsibility to plan for the future needs of law enforcement in the Hattiesburg area, and it’s our job to make sure (residents) have a safe environment here in Hattiesburg.

“The Project NOLA crime camera program will reinforce to the offender that there will be consequences associated with their actions. The program was recommended during a conversation with several police chiefs, and the Natchez police chief recommended it highly to me based on the results he had using this kind of system.”

Under the program, residents and business owners can request the cameras – which are equipped with gunshot detection and license plate recognition – to be installed at their home or business. Cameras transmit video to the Project NOLA Real-Time Crime Information Center at UNO, where video may be live-monitored, stored and re-broadcast to local law enforcement.

Those hosting a Project NOLA crime camera may also view live and recorded video via a smart device, phone or PC. For privacy purposes, Project NOLA maintains camera video for about 10 days and provides camera footage only to law enforcement.

The cost of the cameras includes an installation fee of $100 and an annual fee of $300, which includes service, licenses, bandwidth and transmission of video.

“It’s proven to quickly and greatly reduce violent crime, and it’s proven to quickly and greatly improve quality of life,” Parker said. “Unlike traditional crime camera programs, Project NOLA focuses on creating a true community-based crime camera project that works with individuals, civic business associations, schools and churches.

“These cameras have to be facing the street – that’s one caveat of the program. Project NOLA strongly protects peoples’ privacy by only retaining the footage for (a short time), and does not employ controversial and largely inaccurate computer-based predictive behavioral analysis.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado expressed concerns with the program, saying the population of black individuals in local jails is far greater than the population of other races.

“That is a concern for me, as a person who represents a district with more than 75 percent African Americans,” she said. “What you’re proposing here, I can see it adding to abuses, or creating other ways to abuse it.

“When you mention the fact that we could have this system in place and have less personnel, does that mean my neighborhood is going to be surveilled all the time? That’s critical to me, as a person living in a free an open society – is my family’s every move to be monitored and surveilled? The level of surveillance in Hattiesburg would be like a police state – this is Big Brother on steroids.”

Delgado said she can understand the use of Project NOLA in larger cities with high crime rates, but not in a place like Hattiesburg that doesn’t have that high level of crime.

“Hattiesburg is a safe place to live in the scheme of things,” she said. “No violent offense is good for our community, but if you look at what happens here as opposed to other places, this bothers me to the very core.

“I do appreciate (your effort), but we need to have another work session, because I’d like to bring a different perspective.”

But Parker said the system would help with crime overall and not be targeted at race or economic status.

“I don’t look at race; I look at crime,” he said. “We arrest criminals – whoever commits the crime is going to get arrested, whether it’s black, white or whoever they are.”