COLUMBIA — A proposal to allow security cameras in downtown Columbia will be decided by city voters.
The Columbia City Council unanimously voted Monday to put the decision of allowing cameras paid for and controlled by the city on the April 2010 ballot after voting 5-2 not to approve the amendment itself.
The cameras are geared toward ensuring residents' safety.
The proposed ordinance was submitted by petition, which meant the council was required to either approve it or place it on the ballot by the rules of the city charter.
Supporters of using the cameras argued that they would help deter crime and apprehend criminals who are caught on tape.
"I think that there are really extremely good arguments for using the cameras," Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman said. "It's true that there's no conclusive evidence that I can tell that they reduce crime, but there also isn't any conclusive evidence that they don't. And there's plenty of evidence that they're useful to the police."
Hindman and others referred specifically to an instance in June when Adam Taylor, 25, was assaulted in a parking garage and five of the people involved were identified and apprehended with help from footage captured by parking garage surveillance.
Karen Taylor, the mother of Adam Taylor, initiated the petition that was submitted to the council and founded the group Keep Columbia Safe, which helped to gather the signatures.
She said people in Columbia wanted the cameras in place as a way to prevent violent crime.
"You know that the community at large supports this issue, and even one violent crime like what happened to my son is too much," she said.
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said the advantage of having the cameras is the deterrent effect they provide, especially when well-publicized. He said he could not quote any studies suggesting the effectiveness of the cameras but added that their usefulness was "intuitive."
"I wish I could tell you that it's guaranteed that it's going to deter crime, but it's just intuitive," Burton said. "It's kind of like what we would have done when mom was watching and when she wasn't."
Members of the council opposed to the ordinance quoted studies that had been done in a variety of places, all of which say that cameras similar to those proposed are ineffective. They said the money could be better spent on other public safety items.
"I firmly believe that local public safety policies need to be data driven and optimized for cost," Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said.
There was also a suggestion of a "Big Brother" mentality whenever the city became involved in actively recording people.
"I think there's a definitive difference between public and private surveillance," Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser said. "I believe that any property owner has a right to put a camera on its property."
Carolyn Matthews, an attorney on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke out against the cameras.
She said one aspect of the cameras that had not been adequately discussed was the prospective cost as a result of Missouri's Sunshine Law. She said there is a danger that the tapes would be requested by a lot of people and could cause the city to incur additional costs because of that. She also said she was not sure if the 60 days prescribed in the ordinance to keep the recordings would be adequate under the law.
Everyone who spoke against the idea of downtown cameras at Monday's meeting also said that they are in favor of using cameras in more secluded areas like garages because there is data suggesting they are helpful there.