John Clair

Marion Police Department Chief John Clair

In the near future, Marion will be equipped with a 39-camera traffic monitoring and event management system that the police chief describes as “beyond state-of-the-art.” The system will be paid for by a $85,000 grant announced Thursday by Gov. Ralph Northam.

“Once installed,” Chief John Clair said, “this system will give Marion beyond state-of-the-art incident management and command and control capabilities, and will be to my knowledge the most robust system of its kind in Southwest Virginia.”

Clair emphasized that these aren’t “red-light” cameras meant to capture illegal behavior, but are to monitor traffic flow and for special events. He noted that they’ll be particularly used when Interstate 81 is closed and traffic is detoured through Marion. At those times, he said, VDOT is working to take over management of the traffic signals -- as it does in all towns along the interstate corridor -- and this camera system will enhance that work. 

Clair also explained that special events that can more than double the town’s population can easily stretch the MPD’s personnel thin for traffic management. This system can help get them to key strategic points. 

The 21-sworn member agency serves a population of 6,000 in 4.12 miles. However, the town is host to Hungry Mother State Park, which hosts more than 263,000 unique visitors each year. The Back of Dragon, a riding road, along Rt. 16 between Tazewell and Marion for sports cars and motorcycles grows every year. Additionally, Marion is home to about 50 special events throughout the year with several of those attracting thousands of visitors to the town.

The command center for the cameras will be at the MPD.

The cameras will possess a variety of functions, including a 360-degree view camera, a 180-degree panoramic dome camera, and an infrared camera.

Clair told members of Marion Town Council Thursday, “The implementation of this system will allow for the maximization of our staff and put key members immediately into critical areas, which will directly impact our department’s efficiency and capability during incidents and events. We believe this project will revolutionize our command and control ability and make the Marion Police Department a more responsive and effective public safety agency.”

Marion’s funding was part of $8.79 million in grants to support local enforcement agencies and community-based criminal justice programs. The grants were approved by the Criminal Justice Services Board, the policy board for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) at its Oct. 10 meeting in Richmond. Included in these awards is $3,769,370 in federal funding from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) program. Byrne JAG funds were awarded for a range of equipment needs and program support.

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