Luzerne County’s administration is shopping for more than 160 security cameras to monitor and record people in and around several county buildings, but the purchase has not been budgeted.
The administration opted to proceed with a request for proposals from interested companies to get a handle on the cost, which is needed to pitch the purchase to county council, Sheriff Brian Szumski said Tuesday.
“I have identified deficiencies and security concerns I think should be corrected. It will be up to the county to figure out if the solution is viable,” Szumski said.
With the exception of the prison and 911, the courthouse and several other county buildings rely on an insufficient number of cameras installed in 2001, officials have said.
“This system is incredibly outdated,” Szumski said.
He declined to describe the system’s shortcomings or outline the current number and placement of cameras, saying he doesn’t want to highlight vulnerabilities.
An alleged fire-bombing at the county’s human services building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre in March was indicative of the camera problem, the sheriff acknowledged.
“That’s a perfect example. If we had more cameras there, that could have assisted in the investigation,” Szumski said.
The county’s request for proposals estimates it will need at least 166 cameras and as many as 280. Szumski said he specified the spots he wants to capture but needs input from prospective companies to determine if fewer or more are needed.
Wide-angle cameras may reduce the number in some areas, while obstructions may up the number, he said.
In addition to the courthouse, the proposal seeks interior and exterior cameras at these county-owned buildings in Wilkes-Barre: Bernard C. Brominski Building, North Street; Courthouse Annex, River Street; Penn Place and the human services buildings, both on Pennsylvania Avenue; the courthouse parkade, Emergency Management Agency and voting machine warehouse — all on Water Street; and the engineering/road and bridge building, Reichard Street.
Also in the plans are the county’s new record storage building in Hanover Township and two Wilkes-Barre properties the county leases to house human service offices on State and Union streets, according to the proposal.
Proposals are due Sept. 15.
The proposal was temporarily removed from the county website, www.luzernecounty.org, on Tuesday afternoon because extensive language from an unrelated prior posting seeking banking services was mistakenly kept in the document, making the request confusing and inaccurate. The purchasing department said the document would be corrected and reposted.
Szumski said he recognized the need for camera upgrades long before his office took over supervision of security officers a year ago.
Security guards man the entrances and grounds of county buildings, while sheriff deputies provide security inside courtrooms. The deputies carry guns and are called to assist and “take whatever action is necessary” to handle incidents that arise at all county security posts, officials have said. Security guards started carrying pepper spray, expandable batons and handcuffs earlier this year.
If the camera purchase proceeds, the new system must record everything captured and retain the recordings for at least two weeks, according to Szumski.
“We don’t have somebody everywhere all the time, so just having cameras is a proactive approach because people know they they can get caught and be prosecuted,” he said.
Most of the impacted buildings would have camera viewing stations, and all cameras would be linked to a main control room at the courthouse, which would be moved from the old phone operator room facing the rotunda to a more hidden spot in the building.
“The technology has improved, and the cost of these systems went down, so it’s a good time to do this, especially since nothing has been done with our system in so long,” Szumski said.
Most of the cameras would be stationary, but a few may allow observers to follow and zoom in on individuals, such as prisoners.
In addition to main entrances, Szumski has recommended some interior locations to monitor. At the courthouse, for example, he wants cameras covering access to the law enforcement/civilian weapons storage area and district attorney’s office evidence room and inside the council meeting room, mailroom and both elevators.
County Manager C. David Pedri reiterated the potential for violence looms because people may lose custody of children, court cases and ownership of properties sold at tax and mortgage foreclosure auctions.
“These are high-tension situations and sometimes the most difficult day in people’s lives,” Pedri said. “We have to make sure our citizens and employees have the most up-to-date security measures to feel safe and secure.”