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Police need citizen spies to watch Chinatown surveillance

KHON | May 17, 2005
By Ron Mizutani

If you've visited Chinatown recently and felt like you're being watched, you are. Chinatown's police surveillance camera system is running at near full speed once again with 25 of its 26 cameras in operation.

Art shop owner Sandra Pohl doesn't mind one bit that big brother is watching.

"I feel safer as a business owner," Pohl said.

Safer because there are more eyes watching her and other Chinatown businesses.

"Just knowing that they work makes me feel safe," she said, "and it's focused on this building -- it makes me feel safer."

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For many years the system was flawed by technical problems. Only about a dozen cameras were working. Those problems have been addressed.

"We use it as a tool," said Sgt. Malcolm Uehara. "If we get calls then we can kind of check it out before we get there."

The surveillance system was actually created to be run by volunteers, but those volunteers are hard to find.

Uehara says a tough screening process is necessary.

He recalls an applicant who was recognized by a fellow officer.

"We made a warrant check on him using the computers right there," Uehara said. "He had a $10,000 warrant, so I had to tell him sorry, you can't volunteer, but you're getting arrested for that $10,000 warrant."

Uehara is aware of the potential for misuse.

"They can tell their partner, hey you better watch out and not do something because the camera can pick you up on this street or that street," he said.

The search for volunteers may be ongoing, but the search for a peace of mind has been found.

"It's a selling point for people," Pohl said. "I'm going to tell people that when they come in, that it's safe we have police presence 24-7."

Police are searching for at least 10 volunteers to help monitor the cameras.

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