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St. Petersburg leaders still mulling what to do with RNC security cameras

ST. PETERSBURG — City leaders agree they need to do something with the 26 security cameras purchased for the Republican National Convention.

But what? And, more importantly, where?

Those two questions seem to be vexing officials, who had their first substantial discussion about the future of the cameras at a Thursday committee meeting.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon wants the cameras to be installed in public places and commercial corridors. He presented a map that proposed most of them be sprinkled throughout the downtown area.

But that didn't sit well with some council members, who said they hoped the cameras would be headed into crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"When we were approving the money for these cameras, I thought it would be in council's purview to decide where to put them afterward," said council member Wengay Newton. "We know where the high traffic is."

Most of the cameras, which cost nearly $263,000, were put into storage after the convention.

Newton and other council members said they believe the cameras should go in places known for "open-air" drug dealing and other crimes. Council member Karl Nurse insisted one be at Campbell Park, which is in an area that has historically drawn a lot of police activity.

"I believe it would be a deterrent," said council member Jeff Danner, who mentioned a stretch of 34th Street known for prostitution.

Mayor Bill Foster said he was comfortable with Harmon's recommendations.

"I want the data to drive this," Foster said. "I do not favor, at this time, the use of this technology in residential areas."

The police chief said part of the reason for wanting to keep the cameras downtown was that there are plenty of city buildings and public infrastructure where the cameras could be mounted. He said it will cost from $4,000 to $15,000 to install each camera, depending on placement.

He said the Vinoy already has expressed a willingness to have a camera on its building, which would give police a view of the waterfront parks.

Dozens of events are hosted at the parks every year, Harmon said, and a camera could cut down on the number of off-duty officers needed for Ribfest and other large festivals.

Authorities would be able to monitor the events in real time on iPads and iPhones.

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran asked if the cameras always would be monitored like that.

Unlikely, Harmon said. The department can't afford to have someone sit and watch cameras all day, he said.

However, if a significant incident did happen, he said, the recording could be useful.

"It's safe to say, they will be monitored," Foster said. "Not 24 hours, not seven days a week. … For now, we've got the asset, and we need to deploy it."

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg leaders still mulling what to do with RNC security cameras 11/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 3:31am]
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