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Columbia Missourian

What's next for downtown cameras

By Victoria Guida
April 19, 2010 | 9:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The downtown cameras initiative passed April 6, but Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton must still decide what cameras will be used and where they will go before the Columbia City Council can approve funding.

A report from Burton was presented to the council Monday about a meeting between police and the Special Business District, where they discussed how downtown cameras might be implemented.

In other council action

The City Council will look at a new downtown noise ordinance May 3. The ordinance proposed Monday night was voted down because council did not have enough time to consider The District's new recommendations.

Also, Mayor Bob McDavid changed the council's seating arrangement. The new seating order, from left to right, is City Clerk Sheela Amin, Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley, First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, City Manager Bill Watkins, Mayor Bob McDavid, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl and City Attorney Fred Boeckmann.

Burton said they talked about using smaller mobile cameras, as opposed to the large cameras that were tested as part of a pilot project last year. Those cameras were a mobile unit with four cameras that took up an entire parking space. Had the council chosen in April 2009 to lease that unit, it would have cost $50,000.

“We think we can get by a little bit cheaper in that regard,” Burton said.

The District is still interested in contributing money to the project, said Carrie Gartner, executive director of The District, in a phone interview. At the time of the pilot project, the district offered to pay half the cost of the cameras.

Exact funds are no longer set aside at this time, she said, since the cost of the project is still unknown.

Burton said the Columbia Police Department hopes to identify "hotspots" to decide where the cameras should go.

“What we’re hoping we’ll be able to do is look at the calls for service we’re getting in a certain area,” Burton said, “and (using) that data so we’re not just doing it arbitrarily.”

He also said he hopes to get an inventory of public and private cameras downtown so that efforts aren’t duplicated. Several private entities such as banks, he said, already have cameras. Burton said businesses could deny police access to their camera's footage, but that has never happened.

The meeting became slightly tense near the end when Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser suggested an amendment be added to a downtown camera ordinance that would eventually be brought before council.

She said if the cameras are funded and used, the ordinance should require the police chief to compile a report for the next budget session explaining how specifically the cameras have been useful.

She also reminded Burton and the council that Proposition 1 did not require, but simply authorized, the use of cameras.

"The majority of people in the downtown area voted against them, so we know it is not popular for the people it would be used on," Nauser said.

Mayor Bob McDavid said her suggestion was "too hypothetical" because no ordinance exists to amend.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said it was too early to debate what should be included in the ordinance, and McDavid said the police chief may not even recommend the cameras.

The council agreed 4-3 to discuss Nauser's proposed amendment when the ordinance is written. McDavid, Kespohl and Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley dissented.

Until the type of camera, location and cost has been worked out, an ordinance cannot be drafted. Council members said they weren't sure when the details would be finalized.