WILKES-BARRE — One day after the Wilkes-Barre Area School District nixed its contract with Hawkeye Security Solutions, a member of the city's parking authority said she wants to investigate the system's effectiveness to determine if the authority should renew its contract, which expires in December.
Board member Mary Ann King suggested she and fellow board members tour the command center where the Hawkeye cameras are monitored and request all police reports on incidents in the parking garages to determine if the cameras helped reduce crime.
King said her concerns were prompted, in part, because she was told there were some kids smoking marijuana on the roof of one of the parkades, but the security cameras did not record the action. The authority is in the final year of a three-year contract that pays Hawkeye $100,000 annually.
“We should visit the control center and see how it works,” King said. “And we need to ask for police reports.”
Her suggestion comes as questions regarding the effectiveness of the camera system continue to mount.
The system came under scrutiny in December after the death of 5-year-old Kevin Miller, who was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver on West North Street. Several city cameras stationed in the area failed to get a clear view of the vehicle, which was located after police released photos from security cameras stationed at King's College and a private business.
On Monday, the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board voted to reject a three-year, $270,000 contract with Hawkeye after board members raised concerns over whether level of service being provided justified the cost.
The district first contracted with Hawkeye in 2009 to monitor 47 cameras that are mounted on streets surrounding eight schools. The district also has interior cameras at the schools, but they are not connected to the Hawkeye system. They were purchased by the district and are monitored by school resource officers in a control room stationed in each school, Len Pryzwara, the district's business manager, said.
Under the original contract, Hawkeye was to provide a written report to the district detailing any incident the Hawkeye cameras captured, including a summary of the incident detailing the facts, date and time. Pryzwara, in a recent interview, said as far as he knows Hawkeye has never provided a single report on any incident in the three years of the contract.
Additional questions regarding the cameras' effectiveness were raised by board member Lynn Evans at Monday's meeting.
Evans, who drives a school bus, recounted how her bus was struck by a car on Butler Street last spring. The vehicle, which fled the scene, travelled down numerous streets where Hawkeye cameras are stationed, but police were not able to locate it.
“The hood of the car had a huge 'V' put in it,” Evans said. “He traveled down Butler Street, down Wilkes-Barre Boulevard. There are all these cameras, and they never caught the guy. I don't understand.”
Evans said she's finding it hard to justify the cost, particularly given the district is $1.7 million in debt.
“It just doesn't balance. We are enough in the hole without asking people to pay more money,” Evans said. “We're trying to cut costs and $90,000 a year would pay for a whole lot of books.”
Board member Christine Katsock also questioned the value of the cameras. She said she has done some preliminary research and discovered an alternate system the district could install that would provide more service than it's now getting.
“We can put in a system that, if there is a problem, an alert can be sent to the resource police officer's phone and it instantaneously goes to 911 as well,” Katsock. “That was less expensive that the proposal we got from Hawkeye, and we get more.”
Greg Barrouk, vice president of Hawkeye's board, attempted to address board members' concerns, but was unable to convince them to renew the contract.
Barrouk told board members the loss of the contract would be a major blow to Hawkeye and might force it to shut down up to 20 percent of the cameras in use. Barrouk on Tuesday declined to discuss any action the Hawkeye board might take to make up the money, referring all questions to board President Frank Majikes. Majikes did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Wilkes-Barre City Council President Mike Merritt, a member of the Hawkeye board, said Tuesday he does not know how the board will make up the loss of the school district contract.
“That's a major source of income,” Merritt said.
“I'm genuinely concerned. You either end the program, or we've got to find funding somewhere.”
Councilman Bill Barrett said Hawkeye could ask the city for funding, but it would not be obligated to provide any money as Hawkeye is an independent authority.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was corrected at 11:30 a.m. on April 10, 2013 to correct the name of Hawkeye board vice president from Steve Barrouk to Greg Barrouk.