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'We want to move forward': Dutchtown community groups implement camera network

It's called the 'Curated Camera Network' program. The Dutchtown Community Improvement District is offering cameras for free to businesses and residents.

ST. LOUIS — Long-time residents of one St. Louis neighborhood are focused on changing the narrative of the streets they call home.

Like many areas around the city right now, Dutchtown is no stranger to crime. 

That's why community groups have started a new program, with hopes that it will help the police.

It's called the 'Curated Camera Network Program' and it's a partnership between the Dutchtown Community Improvement District (CID) and the Neighborhood Innovation Center.

John Chen, Neighborhood Innovation Center President and co-founder, said the Dutchtown CID is offering cameras for free to businesses and residents. 

"We're calling for all organizations, partners, and also community members and businesses to actually work together to create this," he said.

While organizer Caya Aufiero, the Dutchtown CID president, knows it won't solve every issue, she's hoping these baby steps will help make her neighborhood safer in the long run. 

"Safety is not something that you want to just take for granted. There are things that we can do that will help today, but they're not going to address the root cause," she said.

Aufiero and Chen have called Dutchtown home for close to 20 years. 

Chen said most of their time has been focused on lifting their community back up.

"Solutions come from an environment where everyone is encouraged to participate and find creative, innovative ways to address our challenges," he said.

That participation started for Chen after he became a victim of crimes on his neighborhood streets. First, being attacked and then held at gunpoint.

"That experience was traumatic. These personal experiences influenced both my understanding and also my determination to find a way to address the safety issues in the neighborhood," he said.

Chen said he is determined to make his community safer, which is why his latest project involves helping the police, through a camera program. 

The Dutchtown Community Improvement District is giving businesses and residents these cameras for free to put outside their buildings.

According to Chen, volunteers will even install it for residents. 

"As the technology improved, we saw all the availability of digital cameras with artificial intelligence features built in and realized, this is a time we can actually create something that is low cost, accessible, and easy to retrieve. Then, we can quickly retrieve the evidence and footage and pass it onto law enforcement for detectives to follow up," Chen said.

Aufiero said it was a no-brainer to give money towards this program, as the Dutchtown CID President.

"It's a wonderful thing to have this network of camera footage that is able to find an incident very quickly. It's able to be sorted by the date, the time, the color of the vehicle, the type of vehicle, it's searchable, and it's just so much more efficient," she said.

While the husband-and-wife duo knows this won't solve everything, they believe it can help.

"If you keep thinking and acting in the same way, expecting different outcomes, that will be not effective. We want to move forward. We do have many ways we can move forward by broader collaboration with open innovation," Chen said.

"The curated cameras was something we thought was a very worthy project, a very innovative approach to how we can help improve the safety and security of our members on the footprint, and additionally, throughout the neighborhood," Aufiero said.

If the pilot year goes well, Aufiero said, the Dutchtown CID has plans to continue and expand this program further. 

You can reach out to the Neighborhood Innovation Center or the Dutchtown Community Improvement District for more information on how to get a camera.

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