Two months after election, downtown cameras still undecided

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 8:47 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 10, 2010

COLUMBIA — No decisions have been made about the placement of cameras in downtown Columbia.

The downtown camera ordinance, approved by Columbia voters in April's municipal election, gives Columbia Police Department Chief Ken Burton the discretion to decide whether downtown cameras are appropriate and where they should be placed if he decides in favor of cameras.

But Burton said the department is "nowhere close" to making any decisions about the cameras.

Deputy Police Chief Tom Dresner is working with downtown police officers, business owners and members of city staff to research if cameras are necessary and where they should be placed. Burton said he expects to see the report in the next few weeks.

Karen Taylor, the Columbia resident who suggested downtown cameras to the City Council about a year ago, said she is also working on the report. Taylor said she expects the proposal to be presented to the council "very soon."

According to a previous Missourian article, the police department's new crime analyst has created a "hot spot" map, which analyzes crime data downtown. The map was intended to help with the decision on camera placement, and Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said he expects the map to be presented to city staff during an internal meeting June 17.

City staff and the Special Business District began considering funding options when the idea for downtown cameras first came up to the City Council, St. Romaine said. At that time, the city allocated $25,000 from its Capital Improvement Budget, and the Special Business District allocated $25,000 as well.

Although funding for the project would have to be revisited, Mary Wilkerson, chairwoman of the Special Business District board, said the business district is still committed to help fund the cameras.

St. Romaine said alternative funding measures have been discussed as well. These measures could possibly include business owners paying to have a camera placed near their business.

Once Burton has made a decision about cameras, St. Romaine said he certainly expects the issue to go back before the public through City Council meetings.

"Anyone who wants to comment on that recommendation would certainly be welcome to comment," he said.

Dan Viets, a local attorney and president of the Mid-Missouri American Civil Liberties Union, said he expects opponents will speak against downtown cameras if the issue comes before the council again.

But approval by the chief is not a foregone conclusion, Viets said. He said he suspects he and Burton have read the same studies, which state that downtown cameras used on public streets and sidewalks are ineffective.

"I think he understands, too, it's not likely to do any good to spend money on these cameras," Viets said.

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