NOGALES, Sonora - Police south of the border are focusing extra sets of "eyes" on neighborhood parks, streets and schools in an effort to keep the peace and shake the city's drug-violence image.
Monitored surveillance cameras are helping police catch nuisance behavior before it escalates and helping deter troublemakers from certain areas, officials said.
Recently, police official Alberto Ibarra spotted a group of people smoking marijuana in a park as he monitored the cameras.
In less than five minutes, a patrol car was dispatched and an arrest was made.
The goal is to install at least 300 cameras around the city by 2010, said Police Chief Juan Manuel Portillo Guevara.
"We want to have a better view of the parks, schools, shopping centers, main avenues and streets and in strategic places that help us to place police where they are needed most," said Portillo Guevara.
The cameras, with a $1,500 and $2,000 price tag, are being placed in 18 parks, 66 elementary schools and 72 middle schools, according to Portillo Guevara.
Alejandro Palacios, a city spokesman, said cameras will also be installed in the downtown area to reassure tourists.
The downtown area is undergoing a makeover. Some business owners and homeowners' associations have offered to pay for the cameras and to have the police department monitor them.
"The cameras are being well-accepted by the community," said Portillo Guevara.
The new cameras will help fight drug-related crime as well, Portillo Guevara said.
"In the case there's that type of (drug) situations, we are going to have a better chance to trap them," he said. "I don't keep this information for myself; we share it with the state and federal police."
The city's main crime, he noted, is domestic violence.
The new system is monitored 24 hours a day, said police official Geovani Chaidez Tapia, who's been monitoring the system for two weeks. Authorities started installing it about a month ago.
"It's been good so far."
In spots where police have made arrests with the help of cameras, trouble has stayed away, officials said.
And that's one of the main objectives - to deter crime, said Portillo Guevara.
Four parks are already being monitored by the system, and six more cameras are scheduled to be installed this week.
The cameras are being installed by the city in federally-funded parks in densely-populated areas, city official Palacios said.
"The idea (of the parks) is to have a public space so kids are having fun," he said "Somewhere they can expend their energy."
The concept of monitored cameras is not new in town.
In 1999, the Mexican federal government ordered states to build an emergency system, similar to 911 in the U.S., to receive and respond to emergency calls. The state of Sonora has three such control centers, one of them in Nogales.
The center has 12 cameras placed along the main streets, ports of entry and the border, said Héctor Servín, with the state control center.
The city's new system is independent of the state one, but the two centers share information. Portillo Guevara said city police meet monthly with state and federal police departments.
Residents feel safer
Portillo Guevara said the new system is not invading people's privacy.
"We are telling them these cameras are for monitoring," he said. "The camera doesn't record inside homes or vehicles."
Those playing in a city park last week said they feel safer with the new system and that being watched by the cameras doesn't bother them.
"I don't care if we have a camera," said Bryan Mendoza Quintero, 12, who was playing soccer with his friends after school. "Nothing happens here; we come every day."
Kenya García Ibarra, 14, who doesn't go to the park that often, liked the notion of the cameras.
"Because if there's an accident or something, they will know who it is," she said.
Julia Cruz, 31, from a nearby neighborhood, said she feels safer visiting the park that's monitored. "It's great; if something happens, we can always go check the camera and see what happened," Cruz said.
Since the cameras were installed in Parque Las Terrazas in the Nuevo Nogales neighborhood in the southeast part of town, César Rodríguez, 9, said he's seen more police officers in the area.
José Becerra, 8, said the cameras can be a bit annoying, but he understands they are there for a good reason.
"I don't like it, but, oh well," he said.
For Nogales residents, said Palacios, it's quite a change. They are not used to having "someone" watching them. "It's going to take a while."