Persing Unconcerned while Criminals Run Amok
Going by what has been written in the Daily Item, Mayor David Persing is now totally delusional over the city’s camera surveillance system. Having presided over the squandering of around $300,000 in tax dollars in a futile attempt to install an ill conceived and non-operational system, he now has the audacity to claim that the cameras are a “boon”.
This in the wake of a daring daylight robbery carried out on the 100 block of Market Street, a busy downtown area with no camera coverage, and a crime which seems to be no closer to resolution. “The city has no buildings in that block on which to hang a camera”, was his lame excuse. Has anyone been asked? What about Purdy Insurance, whose client was the victim in this crime, and who also happen to be the City’s insurers? What about Weis Markets? What about PP&L? Would they have any objections to hanging cameras from their poles? If the worst came to the worst, then the City could install its own pole. Now there is a revolutionary idea!
The obvious lack of security on this block can hardly be doing Purdy’s business much good. How many people now feel safe taking sums of money to this office in the light of what happened? Friend of the Mayor or not, Bill Purdy should be asking some very pointed questions as to what the City intend to do to safeguard his and neighboring establishments from similar threats in the future, and to restore an environment in which citizens can feel confident to go about their daily business without fear of assault or worse.
Since that event there have been further robberies around Market Street – one of a sports store at #228 where the front window was smashed to gain access, and one of an apartment in the 300 block, where the intruder gained access via a window overlooking the fire escape. Obviously these establishments were also outside the area or surveillance, as the police seem to have very little evidence to go on.
Questionable Camera Locations
Why would there seem to be no cameras in Court Street or Woodlawn Avenue, covering the rear entrances to many vulnerable businesses? This would be one way to quickly identify the perpetrators of a number of local burglaries. Of course, the lighting is not so good in those areas, and with city cameras virtually blind during the hours of darkness they probably wouldn’t pick up much anyway.
It would certainly make much more sense having cameras covering every downtown block than what we have at the moment – a whole bunch of them deployed to watch over the marauding flocks of geese on otherwise unused riverfront walkways behind the flood wall, with others guarding the Chestnut Street gazebo, one on the roof of the Riverfront Apartments, another permanently pointing at the Mayor’s ballpark concession stand which is only in use during his lucrative tournaments, still others spying on sunbathing moms around the pool area and a further two mounted above the entrance to that establishment – notorious as one of Sunbury’s higher crime areas!
In short, the cameras should be in locations where they could actually be used by our undermanned and overwhelmed police department to identify criminals and bring them to justice, making our city streets safer for everyone. To date the only person caught with their assistance was a guy who hit one of Jim Eister’s precious trees along South Front Street and then had the audacity to drive away.
More Sunbury criminals have been caught with the help of Walmart security cameras than by Sunbury’s white elephant system, including the Honeymoon Killers (Elytte & Miranda Barbour) and a local burglar attempting to use stolen credit cards. The Walmart cameras can even see in the dark!
No Eister Funding for Police Department
The choice of camera locations was based mainly on input from Councilman Jim Eister, largely because installation work was funded from his massive Parks & Recreation budget. There was no input requested from our police department – after all, what do they know about crime fighting and security requirements for the city?
This year, with the City crying out for funding to support our police department, Eister’s purse strings have been pulled tight. His priorities would seem to preclude citizen safety, as he appears unwilling to offer any financial assistance from his vastly over-inflated budget.
Chief Bradley Hare claimed at a recent city meeting (Monday 13th April) that the camera locations had been chosen so that people would “feel safe” when they were walking about. It is hard to understand how they could make anyone feel safe, especially as their locations have not been publicly disclosed, and most city police do not have access to them. (This is the same Chief Hare who recently informed our citizens to be aware of their surroundings at all times when walking around Sunbury.)
Hare also informed the meeting that issues of privacy made it impermissible to mount cameras in residential areas. The Department of Justice guidelines do not agree. Cameras can be sited anywhere in the City, as long as they are covering activity on the streets and other public places and not pointing directly at city residences.
Cloak of Secrecy
To quote from a recent Daily Item editorial: “The cloak of secrecy applied to that project was allegedly to prevent revelation from foiling crime-fighting intent. The cameras are comparatively too expensive, too complicated, too few and too poorly positioned for maximum advantage and public participation. The camera project has fallen short of one expectation after another. Because of the veil of secrecy, these missteps have raised suspicions of cronyism, incompetence and bad judgment.”
Regarding lack of night vision, the Mayor seems somewhat confused over this. At one meeting we were told that the cameras did not need night vision – they were all installed in well-lit areas. Apart from the asinine nature of this comment – one of the first things the police advise home owners about security is to light up their property because bad people have a natural aversion to brightly lit areas – it also reveals the consummate ease with which Persing can warp reality. At a previous meeting he had stated that there were some cameras with night vision and some without, because “not every location in which they were installed needed night vision”. (No doubt referring to those cameras installed in areas of low or no crime!)
Because of this “cloak of secrecy“, citizens have no way of verifying that the city actually has 50 cameras installed. Certainly, the word of discredited city councilmen is not acceptable in this context. There have never been any attempts to dispel persistent rumors of system dysfunctionality by providing a public demonstration of its capabilities. Neither is there any way to verify that the city actually got the cameras it paid for, and they did admit to having none of the camera serial numbers on file. They did not even carry out background checks on camera installer and maintainer Aaron Nigro, who still has full system access, even though currently under indictment on two felony 3 counts and awaiting trial at Westmoreland County Court,
We are told that only Nigro has the camera IP addresses – needed to connect to the feeds, either live or recorded, and that the camera network equipment is secured in padlocked boxes for which only Nigro has the combinations, and that the camera feeds are encrypted and, you got it, only Nigro has the encryption keys. This would mean that he has the City over a barrel.
We also have to ask why it is that the Mayor also appears to have unimpeded access to the system, more so than virtually all members of our police department? Are citizens happy in the knowledge that the vengeful eye of Persing could be watching over their every move from deep within his lair on North 8th Street?
High Maintenance Costs
Persing has claimed that Nigro does not charge the city for camera support, a claim which is demonstrably untrue. Nigro’s personal expenses up until 12/31/2013, including accommodation at the Edison Hotel, totaled some $15,000, or $2,500 per month. In 2014 camera maintenance costs increased to $18,000, but in this year’s city budget they have only allowed a figure $5,000. None of these maintenance costs have been subjected to the rigors of a bid process. If this is how they operate, how can our councilmen be fulfilling their civic duty of insuring value for money for long suffering city taxpayers? Do they even care?
Not The Item is in possession of an invoice dated 12/18/2013 from Nigro to the City detailing the charge of $300 for 4 hours work for the supply of video feeds “from several locations along a designated area” requested by Sunbury PD, covering the times immediately before and after the Troy LaFerrara murder. If the system was operational at that time and accessible by officers from Sunbury PD, then why did Nigro even need to be involved in this task?
City Hall, Suite 202
We now turn to the intriguing business of Nigro’s office in City Hall. He was given the use of Suite 202 at #225 Market Street, and even advertised this as his business address on his company’s (Global Security Tactics) website, but no nameplate ever appeared on the door. No documents for this secret deal were available from City Hall, but it appears to have been done directly with Career Link, to whom the City has leased the top two floors of the building at extremely advantageous terms. It is also surprising that there appears to be no clause in their contact to prohibit the sub-letting of space without City approval! It certainly enabled the City to disclaim any knowledge or responsibility on this occasion.
The website (http://www.globalsecuritytactics.com) has been down “for maintenance” since the start of this year – in fact ever since Not The Item filed Right to Know requests with the City for this information. However the Facebook page for Global Security Tactics still lists their location as Sunbury PA, and it is still possible to view the site itself for anyone who knows where to look.
The public should be told who, if anyone, gave Nigro permission to use the badge of Sunbury PD on his site, presumably in a bid to boost his bona fides. Is this something else that Mayor Persing presumes he has the right to do without need for authorization from a regular meeting of the City Council? Such use by any external organization would, at best, be questionable. In this case it was being used by someone under felony indictment. Does anyone else see a problem here?
Police Difficulties in Accessing Camera Feeds
In an article in the Daily Item on Sunday 25th January, ace reporter Francis Scarcella revealed just how totally clueless our city administration really is. Persing confessed to him that he “did not know” of any problems with the camera system and then threw Chief Hare under the bus, saying he would need to discuss this with him to find out what is going on. He appeared to prefer the word of a contractor currently under felony indictment to those of long serving and loyal city police officers, further sapping morale in a department already seething with discontent.
Other police departments in the area contacted by Scarcella seemed quite aghast at what they were told was happening in Sunbury. Departments in Williamsport and Allentown had all their officers trained to use their systems, with video walls in police stations giving ready access to all feeds, enabling speedy and efficient investigation of any criminal activity and incidents within camera range.
Here in Sunbury no such central access is available. Only two officers have received any training – Hare and Slack, and they are the only members of the department with any access to the system – an access which entails driving up to the camera in question, plugging in a laptop computer and then downloading the video feed. It should have been possible to make use of the cameras’ built-in Wi-Fi capability to gain access. However, the wrong mounting boxes were purchased with walls so thick that they totally attenuated the signals. Only in Sunbury!
Role of City Controller
The camera system, especially given the extremely questionable way in which it was purchased, should have come under close scrutiny by our City Controller, an elected official with legal powers equivalent to those of the Mayor, and one who forms an integral part of the system of checks and balances written into the provisions of the PA Third Class City Code. The Controller is expected to police the actions of those in power, and to inhibit any temptation they may have to abuse their positions for the purpose of personal gain. The Controller must countersign all documents authorizing the payment of money by the City, after satisfying his or her self as to their legality, and is given full power to examine and audit any and all city accounts.
However, Persing succeeded in potentially bypassing all such checks and balances by arranging for his daughter, Lisa, to run as sole Republican nominee for the position. Thanks to her regular job with the Northumberland National Bank, she is also the manager of a number of key city bank accounts. Her role, and the possible serious conflicts of interest which it entails, is a closely guarded secret at City Hall. She is not mentioned anywhere on the city website and her name was omitted from the 2015 list of candidates published by the Daily Item, even though her post is now up for re-election.
Conclusion – Where Next for Sunbury?
Putting Mayor Persing in charge of our city and our police department is akin to putting a large and hungry fox in charge of a hen house, with similar dangers in both cases posed to the safety of the occupants. As the City staggers from one crisis to the next there seems to be no end in sight, and no limit to the depths of bungling incompetence displayed by City Hall. It is said that people get the government they deserve. What exactly have the citizens of Sunbury done to deserve a government like this?
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