Hundreds more security cameras for Columbia streets, parks?

cleblanc@thestate.comApril 29, 2013 

— The Columbia Police Department has devised plans to install hundreds of security cameras at major intersections and parks to keep a closer eye on public spaces.

The plans call for installing cameras near ground level so they can capture faces and license tags.

In the initial phases, the cameras would be placed at intersections stretching from gateways at east, west, north and south thoroughfares as well as in the city center. The first 25 key intersections would include Harbison Boulevard and Columbiana Drive; Garners Ferry and Leesburg roads; Two Notch Road and Beltline Boulevard; Forest Drive and Percival Road; and Assembly and Gervais streets.

Under the plan, 12 to 24 parks would have cameras, depending on how ambitious a plan City Council would endorse and finance. No votes have been taken.

The price tags range from $300,000 to install about 400 cameras to $600,000 to install almost 800. In addition, monthly bills for operating the cameras would range from $3,900 for 400 cameras to $7,900 for 800, according to a draft of the plans obtained by The State newspaper.

In addition to installation costs, the city might have to hire employees for administrative expenses such as requests for footage from civil and criminal attorneys, as well as open-records requests.

The police department would not release the plans to the newspaper, even after interim Chief Ruben Santiago said Sunday and Monday that he would provide a copy.

“We are not authorized to do that until public safety committee sees it,” quote department spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

The chairman of City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Moe Baddourah, released a draft, dated April 30, that had been provided to him as a member of the panel.

“The public needs to know,” said Baddourah, who is challenging Mayor Steve Benjamin in the fall election.

An even more expansive plan had been floated. It calls for 1,640 cameras and a $2.2 million budget, Benjamin said. City manager Teresa Wilson dismissed that option last week as “pie in the sky.”

Neighborhood groups, individual businesses and business organizations routinely ask council to help provide security cameras.

The plan the committee is to consider also would require the city to write new policies for collection, retention and dissemination of the images captured by the cameras.

Unlike cameras in Five Points and other city entertainment districts, these would be closer to street level so they can fill a void in the current system: identifying vehicles, the police department plan states. “Lower placement has proven effective in solving crimes,” the report states.

If City Council adopts the plan, travel around the city likely would be recorded by Statewide Security Inc., the company that supplies the current camera system under agreements with the city.

Details of the smaller plan call for 50 camera boxes in 25 intersections and four camera boxes in each of 12 parks. Each camera box contains four cameras pointing in separate directions, for a total of 392 cameras.

The larger plan calls for 100 camera boxes in 50 intersections and 98 boxes in 24 parks, for a total of 792 cameras.

Council also is considering whether to designate more entertainment districts, so that meal-tax money can be used to install cameras. Harbison Boulevard, a portion of Devine Street/Garners Ferry Road and some of Broad River Road have been mentioned by council members.

Currently, only Five Points, the Vista and a section of Main Street have that designation. However, the city approved cameras along North Main Street because, council decided, it’s a travel route into the city center, and therefore meets the legal standard that meal-tax money be used to attract tourism.

Council’s Public Safety Committee was to discuss the proposal at a meeting Tuesday. But the meeting was canceled around midday Monday, prompting Baddourah to blame Benjamin.

“The mayor doesn’t want me to have the meeting,” Baddourah said. “I would think it has to go through the Public Safety Committee first.”

Asked why Benjamin would intercede in a committee meeting, Baddourah said, “I don’t know.”

The city clerk’s office, which sets meeting dates and compiles agendas for all council meetings, said the mayor’s office directed the postponement because of scheduling conflicts for the two other committee members.

Benjamin said he called for canceling the meeting because councilmen Sam Davis and Brian DeQuincey Newman could not attend.

“I don’t see how you can have a committee when there’s no committee,” Benjamin said. “How do you make a recommendation to council when there’s only one person talking?”

“Tell Moe (the committee meeting) will be next week,” Benjamin said. “It won’t be the week after the election.” Benjamin said he appointed Baddourah as chairman of the panel.

Davis said he had a family matter come up. “There’s nothing political about it,” Davis said. “That’s not the way I play.”

Efforts to reach Newman Monday were unsuccessful.

If you go Columbia City Council still will hold two meetings today, despite Monday’s cancellation of one committee meeting. The meetings are open to the public, though there is no public comment period. Both meetings are held in the conference room of the city parking garage on Washington Street across from police headquarters.

11 a.m. The Arts & Historic Preservation Committee will discuss big-ticket projects that could be funded by the city’s projected $9 million meal-tax revenue. The panel also is to take up proposals for slowing demolition of historic buildings.

1 p.m. The full council holds is second work session on the 2013-14 city budget, which so far calls for raising or instituting fees to help offset a projected deficit in the General Fund, the city’s primary operating account.

Cameras in intersections

The Columbia Police Department has proposed installing as many as 800 security cameras at major intersections and some city parks. City Council has not discussed nor endorsed the plan. But here are the 25 key intersections the police department wants cameras.

Assembly and Gervais streets

Harden and Gervais streets

Gervais and Huger streets

Blossom and Huger streets

Taylor and Huger streets

Blossom and Harden streets

Devine and Woodrow streets

Devine Street and Millwood Avenue

Assembly Street and George Rogers Boulevard

Harden and Bull streets

Taylor Street, Two Notch Road and Forest Drive

Two Notch Road and Beltline Boulevard

Beltline Boulevard and Farrow Road

Farrow and Fontaine roads

Forest Drive and Percival Road

North Main Street and Monticello Road

North Main Street and Fairfield Road

I-26 and Greystone Boulevard

Broad River and Shivers roads

Broad River and Bush River roads

Harbison Boulevard and Columbiana Drive

Garners Ferry and Patterson roads

Garners Ferry and Leesburg roads

Rosewood Drive and Garners Ferry Road

Fort Jackson Boulevard and Devine Street


Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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