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Video surveillance, more officers discussed at Conyers retreat
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The city of Conyers is considering putting up video surveillance cameras in crime-prone parts of town. While many welcome any tool that would make the communitys streets safer, the idea of government conducting video surveillance makes some people uncomfortable, including those working in the government.

Video camera surveillance was one of the ideas discussed during the citys winter staff and council retreat at Lake Lanier from Jan. 14 to 16. Other public safety issues discussed include a possible request for up to 10 more officers and changes to the regulations for special events/demonstrations/parade permits.

Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson and officer Chris Fisher presented information about the request for 43 video surveillance cameras and two real-time monitoring stations. The cameras and stations would cost roughly $250,000, plus the cost of two monitoring personnel, and would allow for live 24-hour surveillance of troubled crime areas in the city, such as the Wal-Mart parking lot and the retail corridor along Ga. Highway 138.

The cameras, which would run on their own wi-fi system, would have high definition optics to allow zooming for fine details, could pan and swivel in all directions and could be set up to recognize and look towards sounds such as glass breaking or gunshots, reported Fisher. Memphis is another city using a similar video surveillance system.

Wilson pointed out the cameras could be used for policing as a "force multiplier," for investigations after a crime, and could also serve as a deterrent for criminals if they knew they were being video-taped. "I don't know if it would give you the ability to cut back on (the officers) you presently had, but I think you would find the efficiency of investigations would improve," he said. "If the council approved this strategy, then I would certainly hold off on asking for some of the officers because this may become a more effective and efficient way to do that."

A spirited discussion among the city council members and staff on the pros and cons of a video surveillance system followed.

Councilman Marty Jones made clear his discomfort with the idea of government setting up video surveillance of public areas. "It is an issue for me. It's pretty big brother-ish," he said. "Im not real comfortable with sitting there on Jorges deck and someone can sit there and watch me"

Wilson pointed out strict regulations on who could monitor the videos and for how long could be set up to address concerns about privacy and misuse.

The possibility of the public being able to request footage as an open records request was also brought up. "No crime was committed, but suddenly you can go in and use it for whatever you want," said Jones.

The idea of requiring businesses to have video surveillance was floated, and Jones said he would be fine with that; however David Spann, a director with the City Manager's office, pointed out the quality of many businesses' video surveillance systems were very poor and sometimes unusable.

Councilman Gerald Hinesley pointed out the security changes at airports after Sept. 11, 2001. "I have no problem with that because I want a safe flight and I want a safe community," he said. "If we have to put up a camera for people to feel safe, I have no problem with that."

"Im trying to keep an open mind about this," said Councilman Vince Evans. "In business, the more technology you have, a lot of times it makes things so much better. A camera wont lapse sick, you dont have as many internal or personnel issues."

After hearing about the idea, several private business owners expressed support for having more cameras in crime-prone areas, such as the Wal-Mart parking lot and shopping center area and the retail corridor of Ga. Highway 138.

Ron Kempf, manager of the Klondike Package store, has had multiple video cameras in his store since it opened four years ago and said he had no problem with the city putting up cameras outside on the streets.

"Id like to see more of it out here in Conyers. Conyers is starting to get their gangs out here now. Youve got a limited number of police," said Kempf. "I think if itll make us a safer place, its got to help."


Kim Lester, of Cartridge World, said she would like to see cameras set up in areas that need patrolling or are being patrolled. "If youve got a problem being filmed, then theres a problem," she said.


Other public safety issues discussed:

A possible request for 10 more officers, two more detectives, and four more part-time communications operators for the 911 center was also proposed at the retreat.

The estimated total cost of the personnel request would be about $1.5 million, according to Finance Director Isabel Rogers.

- Council and staff also heard about License Plate Recognition cameras that could instantaneously read the tags of all cars it viewed and run it against local, state and national databases. The cost for two cameras would be about $56,000, with an annual maintenance and support cost of about $6,000 after the first year.

- Proposed changes to the special events regulations for events such as demonstrations and parades within the city were outlined. Instead of giving a 48 hour notice, applicants would be required to apply 30 days in advance, pay a $25 application fee, may be required to provide liability insurance. The city could also charge any additional costs it might incur for the event, such as security by police or clean up by city public works.

- A curfew for minors under 17 years old from midnight to 5 a.m. is also in the pipeline for possible ordinance changes. The new ordinance would require minors be accompanied by their parents, a legal guardian, or a chaperone if out on the streets of Conyers during those hours. Exceptions would be made for work, school and chaperoned events and parents could be sanctioned up to $1,000 and 6 months in jail for violations.

"That probably will do more to keep an underaged kid where they ought to be, to hold parents responsible," said Wilson. He added that they would sit down with the Juvenile Court judge to work out the details.