Neighborhood groups endorse plan for video monitoring

The “eyes” have it.

The Cedar-Riverside Business Association (CRBA) and West Bank Community Coalition (WBCC) both passed motions in favor of Safe Zone Public Safety cameras, already in use downtown, as a means of reducing crime and increasing safety on the West Bank. The Minneapolis Public Housing Association also supports the proposed cameras.

Approximately seven cameras are proposed for the Cedar-Riverside area. Each would feed live video of one- to one-and-a-half blocks from public streets of the West Bank to the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) First Precinct headquarters downtown, where they’d be monitored on a giant screen by police staff. Video from as many as 30 cameras are shown on seven or eight larger windows and many smaller ones, on one large screen.

CRBA and the WBCC sponsored three public meetings in August at the Brian Coyle Community Center, Augsburg College and Fairview University Medical Center. At these meetings, Inspector Rob Allen presented information about the benefits and limitations of the SafeZone cameras.
The cost for purchasing and installation of cameras on the West Bank is about $247,500 or less, Allen said. The next step is identifying potential funders and fundraising. Allen said that the MPD could help identify potential funders. There may be a small portion of Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding available that could serve as a catalyst for larger fundraising efforts, according to WBCC’s safety committee.

After funding is identified, the installation would be a relatively quick process compared to downtown’s, Allen said, as there, they needed to install the system. If cameras are installed on the West Bank, they would just need to be strung along and connected to a hub network, which would be a tall building, beaming the information to the First Precinct.

Last April, the last of 29 Safe Zone cameras were installed downtown between Washington Avenue and 12th Street, on Nicollet, Hennepin and First avenues—a 30-block area downtown.
The cameras are modeled after British surveillance camera systems in cities such as Northamptonshire and Brighton, England, and also in Charlotte, N.C.

Allen said British officials in those cities told him the cameras work well, but only if police work with the public.

CRBA Chair Dan Prozinski said there were questions at the August CRBA meeting regarding whether the cameras would be pointed at buildings or streets, and how long the tapes would be kept.

Questions raised at the WBCC meeting in September were whether the cameras are watched enough, and whether crime would move from public areas to residential areas away from the cameras.

Privacy remains a concern; some question the new form of surveillance as a form of “Big Brother” intrusiveness. Allen told meeting attendees that cameras would be pointed only at streets in public areas, never inside buildings.

A Cedar Avenue business owner who didn’t wish to be identified said, “The area isn’t safe at night. The cameras would increase safety. I’d be willing to lose some privacy to gain safety.” A Cedar Avenue bar manager said, “I’m as concerned as anyone about privacy issues. But the practical matter is, safety trumps uncertainty about privacy.“

The exact placement of the cameras has not been determined. There would be mapping of where crimes occurred the most, so as to place the cameras strategically.

Fights on tape?
Could cameras capture—and ultimately reduce—violent crime in Cedar-Riverside?

Two nights last month saw large street fights on Cedar Avenue, involving groups of young people (15 one night, 40 the next) with bats, boards with nails and projectiles like rocks and bricks. One person was stabbed multiple times, and business windows and a door were broken. Witnesses from area businesses said it took more than 15 minutes for police to arrive.

Allen said police have some suspects and those cases are currently under investigation.

West Bank streets are also the scene of less dramatic crimes. There was an auto theft on each Oct. 14 and 15 in the Cedar-Riverside area. On Oct. 15, a flower vendor standing on the sidewalk near the 500 block of Cedar was assaulted.

The questions arise: Will Safe Zone cameras help to increase police response time? Will violence and theft be deterred?

At the August meeting Allen attributed to Safe Zone cameras 145 narcotics arrests, a 26 percent reduction in robberies, and 14 percent drop in theft from autos. Allen also said the cameras achieve a 100 percent conviction rate. “[Suspects] all plead guilty. There’s no dispute because they’re on tape.” Allen showed a video clip that was featured on Fox News of a downtown Safe Zone recording of a purse snatching taking place in 67 seconds and the immediate detention of the thief within a couple minutes of being seen on the live feed. Recently downtown, two people were beat up and robbed, Crime Prevention Specialist Luther Krueger said. He added, as soon as staff monitoring the video saw it they dispatched police, who were on the scene within three minutes of the start of the incident and caught the suspects.

The video recording is available to the public and is kept for between two to four weeks, to help with identification and also as evidence. Face recognition technology will not be used, as police consider it faulty.

Where will the crime go? There’s the possibility of displacement, as has happened downtown. Krueger noted crime travels at least three-fourths a mile away, not a few blocks.

Some people remain unconvinced that that distance of displacement would occur in the Cedar-Riverside area. Wouldn’t criminals simply move to darker alleys, streets and residential areas, to stay away from the eye of the camera? Allen said many criminals, drug-dealers for example, prefer busy areas, so they don’t look as out of place there as they would standing alone in alleys and behind buildings.

Allen noted Cedar-Riverside has a greater density of residents than downtown, though downtown’s streets are busier. Downtown encompasses 30 blocks while only 12 blocks comprise Cedar-Riverside’s main commercial district.

At the Mubearak Store in Al-Karama Mall on Cedar Avenue, Mohamed Hassan said, “The cameras are good for safety. It’s not safe here at night.”

Mohamed Ali, owner of the Mediterranean Deli and a WBCC board member, said, “At night, I see a lot of criminals around. … It’s not good. I support the cameras 100 percent. They can help the community businesses.”

Dan Prozinski, CRBA chair, noted the motion in support of the Safe Zone camera proposal passed unopposed. “During the meetings, there were some concerns, but it was voted for unanimously. I was surprised, actually.” He added, “I think it’s OK. I’m for it, for street-level monitoring. Examples [police] show indicate it’s easier to catch and convict criminals.”

WBCC Board Member and recent past President Rosemary Knutsen said, “I think it’s huge. I think it’s a blessing for the neighborhood.”

Learn more about Safe Zone cameras at www.securitycollaborative .org/minneapolis/default.aspx

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