City Council approves two new cameras in Douglass Park

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 | 9:33 p.m. CDT

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.

Calls for police service

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.

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Delcia Crockett July 19, 2012 | 2:32 a.m.

I am just throwing this in for what it is worth, in life experience.

I am a preschool teacher in the vicinity of Douglass Park. On my break, I have walked (and plan to continue to walk) into Douglass Park to read and relax for my break time.

I saw nothing out of the ordinary at mid-day. And, I was there for nearly an hour. I saw a family take children into the water and watch them very closely, taking excellent care of them and behaving nicely and mannerly toward each other. I saw volunteers at the picnic tables preparing lunch to serve. I saw some nice ladies under a shade tree who were mannerly and respectful toward me.

I have read about shootings in the area, and I have heard all about why Douglass Park should be closed down.

I can tell you that there is shooting in different parts of town, and there are some rude, mean people near me who wake me up every night and disturb my peace, and I live no where near Douglass Park.

In fact, I was nearly arrested for no other reason than I put a note on a car, after nearly 10 years of trying to be nice to a person who lives near me, who has made my life Hell on wheels, ever since I moved here, more than a decade ago.

I think that there are already some nice people in the Douglass Park, and I think that you can get crud-behavior anywhere in Columbia, Missouri - and I know, for a fact, that some officers do not take the time to get to know the people on their beat, nor do they ask enough questions in any situation to realize the whole context of what is really going on. Will it take a lawsuit from someone to get this little problem solved between the community and the police?

I am not going to bring a lawsuit, but if I am ever asked to testify, I will tell the truth.

I think, if you want to know the truth about Douglass Park, why don't you go there and act nice and respectful? You might get surprised.

The park is big, and there is a nice place for everyone there.

You can find drug dealers on convenience store pump aisles where the companies are too cheap to pay employees an annual quarter-an-hour raise and will not even put cameras on the pumps for drive-offs and other criminal activity on their business property (for which they are responsible, and could also get sued someday), but they will put in a distracting recording into the pump to listen to while the criminal activity and negligent treatment of company employees goes on.

(And, by the way, I was asked while at Douglass Park if I were a police officer. I am not connected with the police dpeartment in any way and don't plan on being. I have helped them in the past, but since then, they managed to nearly ruin my life and my career forever, by mistaken call.)


(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs July 19, 2012 | 3:15 p.m.

Regarding the two cameras that are currently in the park, they are in fact operational. One camera, inside the pool bathhouse, is directed towards the pool and shelter. It was installed after the unfortunate drowning incident on June 24, 2005. The other camera is directed towards the basketball courts. The goal is to replace these cameras making use of technology that wasn't readily available when they were originally installed.

The two fake cameras used to be located on the old restroom building and on one of the light poles. Those were removed around 1994-95 when the old restroom was demolished and the new one built.

The Parks & Recreation Department currently has 47 security cameras located in parks and facilities, including the two at Douglass Park. The complete list and the staff report to Council may be found at:

Mike Griggs
Assistant Director,
Columbia Parks and Recreation Department

(Report Comment)

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