COLUMBIA — In the April municipal elections, Columbia voters could choose to have surveillance cameras downtown if an initiative petition gains 579 more signatures by Halloween.
The petition drive was started Sept. 14 by Karen Taylor, whose son Adam Taylor, 25, was the victim of a vicious assault in a parking garage downtown in June.
In that incident, seven teenage males approached Adam Taylor, punched him and kicked him, stealing his wallet before they fled.
Five of Adam Taylor’s attackers were positively identified and arrested with the help of cameras in the garage, and since then, the Taylors and other residents have publicly supported plans to install more cameras to promote public safety.
The petition will need 2,579 signatures to be placed on the April ballot. Keep Columbia Safe, a grassroots organization that Karen Taylor created this summer shortly after her son was robbed, has collected about 2,000 signatures as of Monday, she said.
She said the organization, which has been run with the help of over 50 volunteers, aims to get 3,000 names on the petition to ensure a solid block of support from the community.
If voters approve the initiative, the Columbia Police Department would be authorized to install cameras.
However, the Columbia City Council would still have to approve a measure to allocate funding for the cameras, and council members have shown reluctance to have the devices installed.
The council overwhelmingly rejected legislation in April that would have approved a pilot program to fund the cameras, citing privacy issues.
The Taylors appeared before the council July 20 to plead for members to vote on the issue once more, but only three voted to reconsider the measure.
The program to install the cameras would cost $50,000, and Karen Taylor said the Special Business District board of directors, which is made up of downtown business owners, would have footed half the bill if the program were approved.
Karen Taylor said she did not agree with the council’s concern that cameras would compromise Columbia residents’ privacy, because they already allow cameras in parking garages and have recently approved the use of cameras at traffic lights.
“I don’t understand how they can differentiate putting cameras in some public places but not others,” she said.
She also said cameras are not the “end all” of ensuring public safety downtown, but said they will be useful for both police and prosecutors.
Three adults and two juveniles were arrested just days after Adam Taylor was robbed.
The first suspect tried in the case, Charles Williams III, 17, was convicted of second-degree robbery Sept. 17 after the jury deliberated the verdict for less than an hour, according to a previous Missourian report.
The jury had been shown the surveillance tape from the garage.
“I think that speaks to the power of the camera,” Karen Taylor said. The jury recommended a 12-year sentence for Williams, who faces a sentencing hearing Oct. 26.
Another suspect in the incident, Walter Jones, 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery Oct. 9.
Interviews with the suspects shortly after revealed that the motive for robbing Adam Taylor was a game they were playing called “Knock-Out King.”
The tape from the parking garage shows would-be “King” Lee Andre Barney, 19, throwing the first punch, and the other suspects kicking Adam Taylor while he lay on the ground.
Barney is scheduled for a hearing Nov. 3.