COLUMBIA — A plan to replace two old video cameras in Douglass Park with new ones that are similar to those downtown will go forward with the Columbia City Council's approval.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said the existing cameras are only capable of recording activities at the park. The new cameras have capabilities such as live monitoring and searching. The new cameras will be installed in eight to 10 months.
Douglass Park ranks third in the number of calls for police service during the past three years, according to information provided by Police Lieutenant Christopher Kelley. Cosmopolitan Park and Stephens Lake take the first two spots.
1. Cosmo Park (533 acres) had 463 calls and 13 arrests in 2009; 400 calls and 24 arrests in 2010; and 480 calls and 18 arrests in 2011.
2. Stephens Lake (110 acres) had 283 calls and eight arrests in 2009; 374 calls and six arrests in 2010; and 283 calls and 14 arrests in 2011.
3. Douglass Park (eight acres) had 276 calls and 14 arrests in 2009; 225 calls and 13 arrests in 2010; and 236 calls and 12 arrests in 2011.
The parks department worked with police to develop a proposal for replacing cameras in the park. The council unanimously approved the idea at its Monday night meeting.
The city has a $30,000 budget for improving security in Douglass Park. The estimated cost to buy and install the cameras is about $25,000; annual maintenance will cost about $2,700.
The two existing cameras in the park are primarily recording activities around the swimming pool and the basketball court. The new cameras will be in the same locations.
Since December, neighbors of the park have attended a series of meetings with Parks and Recreation staff to talk about security issues. Potential solutions generated from the meetings include installing cameras, closing the parking lot, adding more lights and developing recreation programs in the park.
Hood said the majority but not all of the people in the neighborhood meetings supported the new cameras.
At Monday's meeting, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked whether community members really want cameras with 24-hour monitoring features. Hood said he believes people who attended the neighborhood meetings are aware of the idea.
First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said it was neighborhood residents themselves who first brought up the idea of cameras when they were asked what they would do to boost security.
According to crime statistics from the Columbia Police Department, Douglass Park ranks third in the number of calls for service during the past three years.
“We are looking to work with the community to take a number of different actions to make people feel safe and secure in Douglass Park," Hood said. "Replacing the cameras in one of the ideas to help us monitor activities going on in the park. It is not just the city’s responsibility, it is also the community’s responsibility.”
The cameras also will help the city's campaign to eliminate the “snitch” mentality, which causes some residents of the neighborhood to be reluctant to step forward as witnesses when police are investigating crimes.
“If you got the cameras as the witnesses, people do not have to be the witnesses,” Hood said.
However, not everyone in the neighborhood agrees the new cameras are a good idea.
Tyree Byndom, president of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, said neighbors' opinions regarding the cameras are half and half. Some people are comfortable with the cameras. Others, however, think the cameras will allow the city to spy on them, though they believe it's ultimately meant to protect them.
Byndom said he doesn't believe the existing cameras in Douglass Park even work.
“The cameras they have in the park are dummies; they were just put up to scare people,” Byndom said. “And most people in the park knew that they are dummies.”
Hood said there was some point before when the cameras were not working, but the cameras now in the park are working cameras.
Byndom said the city should have a campaign to inform residents that they put the cameras there to protect people’s safety and to combat the idea that they installed them secretly to spy on people.
Along with the cameras, the Parks and Recreation Department has several other strategies for improving safety in the park. Many of the ideas emerged during discussions with neighbors. They include:
- Increasing daily police foot patrols and arrests for illicit activities. Hood said there is much more of a police presence in the park than there used to be.
- Programming additional family activities in the park to better engage the African American community. Hood said the parks department hosts a lot of activities in the park. There are different organizations that hold activities, such as Lunch in the Park, every day in the summer.
- Construct a youth community center and implement a safety patrol program with police cadets or student groups. That project will happen in the future after the city has identified a source of funding. The parks department is also trying to enlist the help of youth to help deter crime in the park.
- Work with the city to establish a “vision” for Douglass Park and encourage neighbors to take the lead in educating residents about that vision.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.