Sunday, May 18, 2008

Surveillance Cameras, They Are Popping Up Everywhere!

(originally published on on Aug 29 2007)

Northamptonist started making mental notes of how often we see surveillance cameras in the Northampton area after we noticed the plethora of cameras mounted on roadside poles along Rt.9, ostensibly, we reasoned, to monitor traffic flow. Our assumptions proved correct, as we located a site online called, a joint effort between the State, the Federal Gov't, and Umass, to create a Regional Traveler Information Center, and which is maintained by the UMASS Transportation Center. MassTraveler has a page online here, where you can view the feeds from those cameras on Rt.9 that belong to this effort. This includes a feed from a camera that is trained on Main St. Northampton, highlighting an area beginning at about Crafts Ave., and moving east towards Thornes Marketplace. (as shown in the photo at left)

Since then, we have been noting surveillance cameras trained on public or private areas in town, and we recently went out and took photographs of all the surveillance cameras we are aware of. Including the two sets of dummy cameras in town. That is, cameras that are not actually recording anything. Not actually recording anything because they are not video cameras at all, but fake cameras. They are just the plastic housing of a camera, meant to imply surveillance, with the hope that they will act as deterrents to any unsavory or illegal activity.

Here are the following cameras we noted and photographed in the downtown Northampton area. If you know of more cameras, please leave a note with the location, in the comments of this post.

There is the camera attached to the well known clock that hangs from the corner of the Silverscape Designs jewelery store on the corner of Main and King St. We often wondered about that camera, and whether it was a privately owned camera, or one installed by the City of Northampton. As as far as we can recall, it's placement there was a rather recent development, coming in the last year or two. We called Silverscape Designs and asked them about the camera. It is indeed owned and operated by them. "That's my camera", the manager said. If you look closely at the black dome housing, you can see the little camera inside, dutifully recording everything in it's radius.

Next we stopped at the Northampton parking garage, where we stopped to take photos of the cameras installed there. While doing so, the Parking Director walked over, wondering what we were doing.

"Taking pictures of all the surveillance cameras in town", we replied. He seemed bemused. We noted that we had taken photos of two cameras at the garage. The one in the Northeast stairwell, and the one located on top of the Northeast corner of the roof. He stated that there were a total of six cameras in the garage. Asking him some questions about the cameras, he told us that the cameras are constantly recording, and hold a backlog of 84 days worth of video. There is a six split-screen monitor in his office where he can observe the recordings.

Moving along, we noted the cameras attached to each corner of the police station, cameras that we had never noticed before. There are eight cameras total, two on each upper corner of the building.

Next, we photographed the camera atop the Old School Commons building, the building which houses the Northampton Center for the Arts, and which is on the corner of Elm and New South St. We believe it is a camera belonging to WWLP 22 News who use it for shots of town in their broadcasts, but we are not sure about this, and did not follow up on it. We thought it possible that this is the camera focused on Main St., mentioned at the beginning of this post. Though a close inspection of the photo I took appears to show the camera atop Old School Commons pointed in the direction of Elm St.

Here are photos of the two sets of cameras you can reasonably presume are fake cameras. The first set belong to a business, and the first clue, aside from their cheap, generic looking style, is that both have obstructed views of the area they should be videotaping. (You could see this in the original photo, but these have been cropped, so as not to allow easy identification of the business) Additionally, as previously noted, the casings seem cheap and generic, and the cameras are mounted haphazardly and unprofessionally, implying that they have not been hardwired into a central system. For if they were, that would have been done by a security firm, with the right tools and know-how, with unobstructed views, and not simply screwed onto a wood board attached to the building. Within reach of anyone on a milk crate no less. Fake cameras are widely available online, and you could do a google search for 'fake surveillance cameras' and browse the listings, attempting to compare cameras you believe might be fake with photos of fake cameras available for purchase online. Noting identifying marks and such, such as the same series number, for instance.

That is what we did for the set of cameras photographed here. These two cameras appeared suddenly one day on an apartment building in town, and are pointed on an area in front of the property, ostensibly covering the whole length of the street and sidewalk that it sits on.

We noted that we never saw anybody installing them. Being familiar with the availability of fake cameras, and what they look like, and after looking closely at these, we assumed they were fake. And after speaking to residents there, none of whom could report that they saw them being installed, we were pretty damn sure about their status as fakers. After looking at photos online at a site that sells fake cameras, we are now 98% sure the cameras are fake, as the two cameras in the photograph are identical to the fake camera shown for sale here.

There is also a camera trained on the street, facing west, in front of the Banknorth branch on Main St. (the bank near Faces) And from the comments, we have learned that the Mass Traveler camera focused on Main St. is housed in a second floor office of City Hall. Additionally, another commenter writes in to let us know that "Four cameras -- presumably to monitor traffic flow -- have just been installed at the intersection of Bridge Road and North Maple in Florence. I'm hoping that someone will watch the tape and figure out what a poorly designed intersection this is, but they are probably only using the cameras to count cars."