Columbia City Council considers police chief's downtown camera report

Monday, September 20, 2010 | 11:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The city is one step closer to having downtown cameras after Columbia Police Department Chief Ken Burton presented his recommendations to the City Council on Monday night at City Hall.

The council voted 4-3 to request a proposal from Burton, detailing his choice of a camera vendor and its cost, before the council proceeds with decisions on the placement, funding allocation and camera model.

Columbia residents authorized the police chief to recommend downtown camera placement when they voted in favor of Proposition 1 on the April 6 ballot.

The four locations at which Burton chose to place cameras are:

  • Hitt Street and Broadway.
  • Tenth Street and Broadway.
  • Tenth and Cherry streets.
  • Ninth and Cherry streets.

Burton said these areas would benefit from cameras because they are crime “hot spots,” determined by a map Police Department crime analyst Jerry East created. The map shows requests for police service downtown from April 2009 through March 2010.

“The hot spots were pretty significant in those areas,” Burton said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of question about where we should put cameras.”

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz asked Burton whether the Police Department had a time frame in which it marked a location as a hot spot, saying the areas seemed as though they would only be hot spots during peak times of downtown bar operations.

“It just seems like we’re talking about three nights of the week, more or less, two hours a night,” Sturtz said. “If you know we’re looking at this small area these certain hours of the night, it seems like you should have a good strategy (of policing).”

Burton said the most service calls were between midnight and 3 a.m., and during that time frame, the police are “outnumbered.” He said he hopes the cameras would act as deterrents to crime, so the police officers wouldn’t be as overloaded.

“It gives us something else in our toolbox,” Burton said.

Both Sturtz and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser questioned the success of cameras as crime deterrents.

According to a previous Missourian article, studies of cameras as crime deterrents have shown varying levels of effectiveness, depending on factors such as the area and type of crime.

“Those studies are not very hopeful about deterrence,” Sturtz said.

Burton also briefly touched on the camera models he proposed in his report to the council. Columbia Police Department intern Renee Sinclair compiled data on five camera companies and showed which models fit the requirements of the council and of business owners.

Burton recommended going with a model that is small and portable.

“I don’t imagine they’ll be bouncing all over the city, but if we’re able to, that would be an added bonus,” Burton said.

Nauser asked Burton whether he thought going with a smaller camera would make it less visible, affecting its use as a deterrent. Former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala expressed similar concerns during the public comment section of the council meeting, saying the text of the proposition stated the cameras must be clearly visible.

Burton recommended using signage to state the area is under video surveillance.

Now, Burton must decide on a specific camera model and present that and its cost to the council for further consideration before the issue can proceed.

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