Advertisement
  1. News

With RNC cameras in place, downtown Tampa sees drop in crime

Published Aug. 30, 2013

TAMPA — Crime in downtown Tampa has dropped 23 percent since last year, and while police don't give all the credit to the surveillance cameras bought for the Republican National Convention, they're glad to have the technology.

"They're just another tool in our toolbox," police Capt. Mike Baumaister told the City Council on Thursday, adding that he thinks the cameras had an impact on downtown crime.

The reduction came in the total number of four serious crimes — burglary, robbery, auto burglary and car thefts — for the first seven months of 2013, compared with the same months last year. (Car thefts actually rose, but the others fell.)

That said, at least one council member remains leery of how the cameras tip the balance between enhancing public safety and protecting privacy.

"I just hope that we'll all do our research and think about them really hard" before voting on any future money to keep the system going, said council member Mary Mulhern, who cast the lone vote against buying the cameras in the first place. "I'm not comfortable with them."

Tampa spent $2 million from a $50 million federal security grant to buy the system for the RNC. It got 119 new cameras, 78 of which are focused on 58 different downtown locations. Six are trained on the Tampa Convention Center, while five are at the Tampa Bay History Center and five more cover Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The cameras have stayed on since the convention, which took place a year ago this week. Police do not actively monitor them, but they can look at the video when a crime takes place.

That's what they did on Nov. 1, the day a homeless man grabbed, dragged, punched and groped a 63-year-old woman in the Fort Brooke parking garage.

Using the cameras, police spotted the suspect, who was wearing a torn T-shirt, then saw him throw away the shirt and later found him at a city park.

"If those cameras were not in place, we probably would not have identified him as quickly," Baumaister said.

Police have put the trailer-mounted cameras, along with big banners and blue lights, in the parking lots of stores with shoplifting problems and have seen thefts drop.

The mobile cameras have helped catch a car burglar at Patriot Park and find a motorcyclist dragged into the grass by a hit-and-run vehicle. They have been loaned to St. Petersburg for the Grand Prix and to police in Boca Raton for a political event.

While the cameras have been used to identify burglary suspects, Baumaister couldn't say how many times their use has paid off like that.

"I think we need to know that," Mulhern said. "When we're asked to appropriate money for this, we need to know that they're being effective."

In coming months, city officials expect to propose spending an estimated $164,000 annually to maintain them and $22,000 to license the system's software.

Also important to consider, said council member Harry Cohen, are cases like the Boston Marathon bombing where surveillance cameras played key roles in events.

Mulhern and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida have talked about needing to write policies regulating the use of the cameras, but police say they already have.

Under the policy, none of the system's resources, including the trailer-mounted cameras, can be used without the approval of criminal intelligence command staff.

In addition, anyone using the system must have a unique user name and password. The system tracks what each user looks at, so there is a record if someone uses the system for non-police business. The camera system can't listen to or record audio.

Police store video for 30 days. After that, files are released to be used again unless they are being saved as evidence. Except for evidence, no video is retained for more than 120 days.

Council member Frank Reddick zeroed in on the use of cameras to help with crowd management this summer at Rowlett Park. People pay to rent those picnic shelters, he said, and suggested that having the park under video surveillance creates a "police state" where people are "spied on."

The cameras were not in the shelters, but in areas were people gather, officials said, and, in any case, the park is a public place.

"These days, when people are out in public, they should not be surprised if there's a camera — be it a government camera, private camera or someone with a cellphone," assistant city attorney Rebecca Kert said. "That's the reality of the world today."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of stabbing and killing John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard their houseboat in 2013, testified on his own behalf at his murder trial in Pinellas County this week. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It took the jury about four hours to find Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria guilty. Next they must decide whether to send him to Florida’s death row.
  2. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  3. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  4. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  6. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  7. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  8. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  9. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  10. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement