VAIL — From big-box stores to hotels to coffee shops, just about any place open to the public has security or surveillance cameras. The number of cameras in Vail may spread in the next year or so.
Among the new items proposed in Vail’s 2014 budget is roughly $120,000 for about 24 new surveillance cameras — with 15 or so in Vail Village and another nine in Lionshead.
Vail Police Commander Craig Bettis said the request would fill a public-safety need for both current events and the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. Some current events can draw as many as 30,000 people to parts of Vail Village, and Bettis said as many as 150,000 people could come into the village during the course of the championships.
The reason Vail police want the cameras is one-word simple: Boston.
“Boston was a game-changer,” Bettis said of the April 15 terror attack near the finish area of the Boston Marathon. While big open-air areas are harder to secure than arenas and stadiums, cameras in strategic spots in Boston helped authorities identify bombing suspects within hours, Bettis said.
“Cameras are a real force multiplier,” he said. “Without cameras, it could have been weeks or months before suspects were identified.”
Bettis said “there are no privacy issues” with the proposed camera locations, all of which would overlook public spots.
Bettis said the cameras would be watched in real time during big events. Most of the time, though, the cameras would be set to a wide-angle view watching and recording without being monitored by humans. People in the town’s dispatch center would be able to watch live images and be able to zoom and move the cameras if an emergency call came in.
Bettis used the example of a bar fight that spilled out into the street. Dispatchers could have real-time views of incidents and send an appropriate number of officers to respond.
While cameras in Vail Village and Lionshead would be new, they’re old news in many other parts of town.
Mike Rose manages Vail’s bus system and parking structures. He said there are several cameras in the structures — at the entry and exit gates, at the transportation center where buses and taxis park and in the elevators. But there aren’t cameras in the parking areas — too many would be needed to cover all that territory.
The cameras aren’t intended to reduce crime, Rose said, but do provide a way to get a better idea of what’s going on in and around the structures.
Cameras are also helpful at the Eagle County Regional Airport. Greg Phillips, county aviation director, said he couldn’t give too many details about the number or precise location of cameras, but he said there are “quite a few” in and just outside the passenger terminal.
Cameras in the terminal help when there are conflicts between passengers, or between passengers and airport employees, Phillips said.
“We can use (video) to help us understand what really happened,” Phillips said.
Back in Vail, Tivoli Lodge owner Bob Lazier joked that he’d appreciate more cameras in the village so he could keep better track of the family dog.
On a more serious note, Lazier said he thinks cameras in public places are valuable tools.
“I’m not sure we wouldn’t be negligent if we didn’t have them — if we use them with integrity,” Lazier said. “It’s a tool they really need in the toolbox.”
Lazier added that there are numerous surveillance cameras in the public areas of the Tivoli.
“We could be negligent if we didn’t have them,” he said.
The Loaded Joe’s locations in Vail and Avon also have cameras inside, and company co-owner Kent Beidel said he doesn’t really think about whether or not he’s on camera in public places — “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.
Beidel said there’s a “very reasonable” argument for surveillance cameras in public places. “It sounds like the best use is what (police) are pitching,” he said.
And safety is at the core of the pitch for cameras in the resort villages.
“There’s an expectation from the public that they’re in a safe environment,” Bettis said. “We need to do a better job (with security). Nothing is not a target any more.”