City Council accepts donation to install more interactive cameras downtown

Monday, February 6, 2012 | 9:37 p.m. CST; updated 10:08 p.m. CST, Monday, February 6, 2012
A stationary security camera currently sits at the corner of Ninth and Cherry. It will soon be replaced by a new security camera that will be able to zoom in and track its subjects.

COLUMBIA — If you've walked down Broadway or Cherry Street since last summer, it's likely you've been recorded by the Columbia Police Department.

Soon, four of the eight police-operated video cameras located downtown will be able to "pan, tilt and zoom," following the City Council's decision Monday to accept a donation for the purchase and installation of a new camera at the intersection of Tenth and Cherry streets.

The new camera, capable of zooming in and tracking its subjects, will replace a "fixed," or stationary, camera. The downtown cameras were initially installed in July, following a successful campaign to pass Proposition 1 in 2010 led by Karen Taylor, an executive at Boone County National Bank.

The $2,847 gift for the camera is from Taylor's grassroots organization, Keep Columbia Safe, which she created after her son was assaulted at the Tenth and Cherry Street parking garage in 2009

"We're just looking at a more capable camera," Taylor said.

She said the group raised the money during two fundraisers at Déjà Vu Comedy Club.

Meanwhile, civil liberties advocates claim the cameras have no effect on crime rates and are an invasion of privacy.

"Most of the studies come from the U.K., one of the most heavily surveilled states in the world," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. "They show that video cameras tend to push crime around a little bit, but you don't see a lowering of the actual crime rate."

Mitch Richards, treasurer of Keep Columbia Free, a local civil liberties advocacy group, said the geographic placement of the cameras is indicative of the City Council's priorities.

"A white kid gets attacked, and you have a whole campaign to put cameras in the safest place in Columbia," Richards said. "Now, you have pretty regular shootings north of there, and nobody gives a darn," he said, referring to an incident last Tuesday in the First Ward.

Columbia Police Lt. Chris Kelley said the cameras, which initially cost the city $75,000 to install, have been used in two criminal cases as of September that involved littering and driving while intoxicated, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Kelley also told the Tribune that the police department has begun to use the cameras to monitor downtown streets in real time.

A policeman at the council meeting said real-time monitoring is only used during peak hours: Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. 

Mark Flakne, president of Keep Columbia Free, said the real-time monitoring violates campaign promises made by Taylor. Flakne posted a video of Taylor at a debate at Stephens College on his blog. In it, Taylor said, "(The cameras will) only be used in a case, such as in Adam's incident, where … they're incredibly valuable to law enforcement."

Taylor said the police are within their power to live-monitor downtown streets.

"The ordinance did state that the cameras could be used by the police chief in the way he saw fit," she said.

The original ballot language stated: "The ordinance would authorize the police chief to deploy safety cameras in the downtown area to enhance public security."

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Mark Flakne February 7, 2012 | 6:16 a.m.

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