Police, downtown group credit video cameras with helping to reduce crime

Some business owners say measure not enough

March 13, 2001|By Cara Nusbaum | Cara Nusbaum,SUN STAFF

A video patrol program designed to deter crime downtown with cameras on street corners is curbing lawbreaking in targeted areas, but some proprietors say the electronic surveillance isn't catching enough.

In 1996, the Downtown Partnership implemented the program by installing 16 cameras along the Howard Street corridor, around Lexington Market and roughly between Saratoga, Paca, and Camden streets and Park Avenue.

The cameras are encased in plastic boxes and installed on buildings about 15 feet off the ground. The Downtown Partnership, MTA and Police Department monitor them in a kiosk at Howard and Lexington streets. Signs are posted, warning would-be criminals about the cameras.

After three years, 16 additional cameras were installed on Charles Street between Lexington and Centre streets.

Tom Yeager, head of security for the Downtown Partnership, said that the cameras are on 24 hours a day and that when a police report comes from a monitored area, the tapes are reviewed for evidence. The tapes are erased and reused after three days if not needed for evidence.

"There's been a decrease in crime every year," Yeager said.

From 1999 to 2000, crime dropped 6 percent on Howard Street. On Charles Street during the same period, crime fell 15 percent, officials said.

"The program has been very successful," said Central District Commander Maj. Steven McMahon, who compiled the statistics released by the Downtown Partnership last week.

It has been supplemented by police efforts against car theft, in which decoy cars are placed in the videotaped areas to catch auto thieves. "Word gets out to the criminal element, and they stop committing crimes," McMahon said.

Still some merchants are not as confident in the system. Dora Weltlinger, owner for 22 years of Samsons Jewelers in the first block of N. Howard St., said the cameras "don't do anything."

After someone threw a brick through her store's window Jan. 31, the camera failed to film the culprit in a way that would help police make an identification.

"It is a big disappointment that they can't do anything about the crime," Weltlinger said.

George Herrmann, owner of People's Downtown Discount Liquors in the first block of N. Howard St., said, "The crime is still out there. I don't notice a difference. Things are probably the same."

Yeager acknowledged that crime occurs and that larcenies are the partnership's biggest concerns, but overall, he said, things have improved - thanks in large part to the cameras.

In the two areas, the number of reported larcenies fell from 994 in 1999 to 903 in 2000 (about 9 percent), robberies decreased from 131 to 79 (about 40 percent), assaults dropped from 163 to 157 (about 4 percent). Auto thefts increased from 34 to 57 (about 68 percent).

This spring, 16 cameras will be added along Park Avenue to Liberty Street, and another 16 will be placed between Lombard, Baltimore, Calvert and Gay streets.

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