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Home / Articles / News / Local News /  Big Brother is NOT watching
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Chavez Security Inc holds the contract to install cameras and store video footage.
JUSTIN HORWATH

Big Brother is NOT watching

More than a year later, surveillance project remains incomplete

July 8, 2014, 12:00 am

It’s been over a year since Santa Fe entered into a $253,000 contract with a private company to provide video surveillance at 15 sites across the city. Yet the project that’s supposed to aim 34 cameras at parking lots and parks throughout Santa Fe isn’t even close to completion.

Video feeds at a handful of locations remain inoperable following the discovery of power and network issues, according to Peso Chavez, a former city councilor whose Chavez Security Inc. is being paid to do the work.

Now, information technology and public works administrators want City Council to remove some camera sites from the plan and add cameras where they previously weren’t planned.

A proposed major change in the contract, for example, would nix installation of video equipment that would have covered the popular Atalaya Mountain trailhead on the St. John’s College campus because school officials objected to cameras on their private property. The contract also called for cameras at Jaguar Drive trained on a turnabout and at Powerline Road to watch a water tank. If councilors approve, no cameras would be installed at those three sites now.

Officials also want to “temporarily” delay installing cameras at five other sites: Unity Church, a dirt lot on Zia Road, Wilderness Gate, Hyde Memorial State Park and the Dorothy Stewart trailhead. In place of those sites, cameras would instead be installed at locations such as the Municipal Recreation Complex, Frank S Ortiz Park, West DeVargas Park, Cathedral Park and Frenchy’s Field Park.

Thomas Williams, director of the city’s Information Technology and Telecommunications department, says his department is asking for contract amendments now because the 2013 security camera contract awarded to Chavez’ company was put together hastily.

“There wasn’t some feasibility study done,” he tells SFR. “There wasn’t a lot of time taken. We moved very quickly to put together [a request for proposal] and we used a consultant group to do that.”

Other aspects of the surveillance program have also changed, including one requirement in the contract that called for solar panels to power cameras at certain sites. Williams says he agreed to halt that plan because of concerns about power disruptions from prolonged periods of overcast skies.

Asked about whether the city would still pay Chavez the same amount of money outlined in the contract, Williams says, “Not every site was broken down by each piece of equipment,” adding that the city is looking to “get something in return” from that eliminated component. City administrators are seeking to put out an entirely new bid for cameras that would monitor sites at the Civic Center, the transit building on Rufina Street, the public library on Washington Avenue and the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, along with the five sites that were “temporarily” removed from the current contract.

For years, the company behind the deal has provided security services to the city, scoring thousands of dollars in contracts for posting security guards at Santa Fe buildings and special events.

Chavez Security is set to celebrate its 21st anniversary in August. The Santa Fe native who runs it is best known to the public as the city councilor defeated by Debbie Jaramillo in the 1994 mayoral race. Out of the public eye, Chavez, who has a law degree and a private investigator license, has been spending time on research and development of a new security system that coordinates remote video surveillance powered by motion-detected cameras with security guards on-site. At 63, he’s passionate about a security system that he boasts would provide “360-degree” protection at a site. His company employs 27 licensed security guards who already patrol sites like the public library and the Buckman Road Corridor.

But the city also recently rejected the company as a contractor to provide security services at various Santa Fe facilities like garages and libraries, opting instead to go with the lowest bidder, Albuquerque-based AAA Security LLC.

The move was a setback for Chavez, who sought to convince city officials they needed to go with his new security system coordinating video and security guard surveillance.

Chavez says once he was awarded his current contract for video surveillance, he worked with public employees to revamp some of the requirements that he found unworkable, like solar panel power, network issues and video storage.

A small room in his office houses a huge server that is supposed to store video data from those sites for up to two years. In the next room, an employee watches various video feeds of city parking lots, the therapy pool in the GCCC and the city coin-counting room. But that worker isn’t always in front of the video monitors.

Santa Fe’s surveillance project is one of the city’s first steps toward joining a trend that has cameras pointed at inhabitants in major metropolitan cities across the world, stoking debates about eroding privacy protections afforded to people in public spheres.

Santa Fe is a relative newcomer to that debate, however, and like in many cities, city councilors dreamed up the project in response to property crimes such as motor vehicle burglaries and other safety concerns.

Officials didn’t immediately answer SFR’s questions about whether footage captured by the cameras will be provided to requesters under public-records laws. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says the city would have to make the video available if someone asked for it.

Prior to the contract, very few security cameras, whether installed by private parties or by the city, kept an eye on Santa Fe. The well-trafficked downtown Plaza remains largely unwatched by government-funded surveillance. A camera pointed at East San Francisco is linked to the Santa Fean magazine website.

Chavez, for his part, says having cameras in place is a deterrent to crime. He says the city would do better with more cameras keeping an eye on crime. “My job is prevention,” he says. “I want to prevent it before it takes place.”

But for now, Big Brother isn’t so big in Santa Fe. The city entered into the camera contract with Chavez on April 29, 2013. This week, Williams says “he’d hate to put a timeline” on when all the cameras will be up and operating, but his gut instinct tells him it will be complete by the end of 2014. “We’re hoping for much sooner than that, though,” Williams says.

 

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