Proposed downtown police cameras up for City Council discussion

Sunday, December 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:18 a.m. CST, Sunday, December 6, 2009

COLUMBIA — People who commit crimes downtown might want to practice saying "cheese."

The Columbia City Council will discuss downtown safety cameras Monday. Council members could either authorize the Police Department to use mobile cameras or put the issue on the April 2010 ballot. Since the ordinance was proposed by petition, the council must take one of those actions, according to the city charter.

The proposed ordinance was in a petition certified by County Clerk Wendy Noren and City Clerk Sheila Amin last month. Karen Taylor, whose son was attacked in a parking garage in June, started the petition, according to previous Missourian reports.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said that he supports putting cameras downtown and that he has supported it all along.

"I believe that downtown is fragile, but it's extremely important to Columbia and that it must have a reputation as being a well-policed, safe place to be at all times of day and night," he said.

Hindman said the cameras would aid police, who cannot cover all of the downtown area at once. He said the cameras would "extend the eyes of the police" and make them more effective.

"We have invested heavily in downtown police, and I think we should make the further investment to make them as effective as possible," he said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said the downtown safety cameras aren't a good idea.

"I think that we will get relatively little contribution to safety for the money that will be required and that we need to have a careful analysis to see if there are in fact other actions that can be taken to contribute more to the safety of the public," Wade said.

He said he supports putting the issue to a vote to allow discussion.

Wade also said he favors using cameras in parking garages because they have a narrower focus there.

"One is just randomly looking at people's public presence and behavior. The other is targeted in a specific situation for very specific kinds of security issues," he said.

The City Council did not approve a safety camera proposal on April 6. According to the city manager's report, that proposal would have cost the city $50,000.

The manager's report also stated that one provision of the new proposal violates Missouri's Sunshine Law. The provision states the recordings could only be accessed by the contractor responsible for recording, criminal justice agencies or others by a court order. The proposal also includes a clause that states if one provision of the ordinance is deemed illegal, the rest will not be voided.

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