Controversial camera system down earlier this month

Controversial camera system down earlier this month


A camera system set up for the Philadelphia Police to monitor the Municipal Court Clerk’s office was down for some time earlier this month.

The camera system was established last year after a broken camera system was part of a dispute among the previous mayor and aldermen over the status of a clerk who was fired and later re-hired.

Following weeks of controversy, the previous council set a policy to establish a video feed from the Municipal Court office that is to be monitored at the Police Department next door.

Chris Stokes of Stokes Technologies LLC., who installed the system, told the mayor and board of aldermen during their Tuesday night meeting that a software issue caused the connection between the court office and the police station to stop working earlier this month.

“It had not been used in the police department for several weeks,” Stokes said, adding the camera still has backup recordings. “The mayor asked me to come up here and do a system check to make sure it is working. … There have been no gaps in the surveillance.”

Microsoft changed some software that caused the cameras stop communicating locally, Stokes said.

"I had to find software that would help us get that capability back," Stokes said. "I implemented this at the PD last week. They are able to view the camera system now live.”

The problem was discovered when Ward 1 Alderman Justin Clearman asked questions.

“I ask a lot of questions to see if everyone is keeping up with things,” Clearman said. “By chance, (when he asked about the cameras) they said for the past couple of weeks, we haven’t been able to see anything. I got that info from an anonymous source who let me know they were off. That’s when I called Chris Stokes. In 30 minutes, I heard the mayor and the chief were calling him.”

Police Chief Eric Lyons said he believes the cameras were not working for a couple of weeks.

“We view it through the Internet,” Lyons said. “... They did away with Internet Explorer and that is what we were using. Once it stopped working, that’s when the camera stopped working.”

Lyons said the department does not have a designated person who monitors the court clerk’s department all the time.

“It is monitored,” Lyons said. “We don’t have a dispatcher who is constantly looking at the screen.”

Clearman said having the cameras in operation is important.

“I don’t know how long (the cameras were down),” Clearman said. “Two weeks sounds right. I don’t think we were looking at anything substantial. It needs to be working when we are doing an audit. ...”

Mayor James Young he is happy the system is working now and Ward 2 Alderman Jim Fulton pointed out the importance of the system.

“My main thing is safety,” Fulton said. “(If there is a problem), the police need to be called. That is for safety reasons.”

Stokes said there are two accounts for the camera system — the main master account which allows changes to the system, and a user account for the police department, which allows viewing only. He handed the mayor an envelope. Stokes said he had reset the password, and on the piece of paper in the envelope was the only copy of the new password.

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