Sides drawn in surveillance debate

Baltimore County Council considers adding cameras outside shopping centers

March 16, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A camera inside the Sweet Annie gift shop in Lutherville was recording both times David Secor's wife faced masked gunmen intent on robbing her store in the past six months.

But there were no cameras outside to capture the men's faces before they put their masks on or the cars they were driving, Secor told members of the Baltimore County Council yesterday.

A bill that would require shopping center owners and operators to install video surveillance of public parking areas would go a long way to help identify criminals - and maybe stop them before they commit other crimes, Secor said.

"They pull up the mask [to cover their faces] when they're in the store," he said, "not in the parking lot."

Secor was one of 12 people who testified yesterday during a sometimes testy hourlong hearing that questioned participants' political and financial motivations and left councilmen debating the merits of requiring the cameras versus setting up a task force to study security at the county's shopping centers.

Lawyers and others who represent the centers and area businesses pushed for the study, saying the issue should be vetted by experts before the council forces centers to put up cameras in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of St. Paul's School educator William A. Bassett in a Towson Town Center parking garage last month.

"We need to get those folks involved ... so we have the right solution to an awful event," said lawyer David Gildea.

But Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who introduced the camera bill within days of Bassett's death Feb. 18, said the industry just wants to "bury this" in a review. And he noted that Towson Town recently decided to install cameras in its parking garages.

"I've got a drawer full of studies. It's actually more. It's a cabinet full of studies that go nowhere," he said. "I think we have to seize the momentum. Otherwise this is going to fall to the back burner."

Kamenetz and Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, one of the bill's three co-sponsors, said they have heard from several residents concerned about safety and have a petition signed by several hundred members of the "St. Paul's community" in support of the camera bill.

But Kamenetz said concerns about the bill from those in the industry also resulted in some proposed amendments to the original bill.

Amendments would limit those shopping centers affected by the bill to larger centers with 15 or more retail businesses, require owners to install cameras to watch over at least 75 percent of their lots during business hours instead of 100 percent 24 hours a day, and allow center owners to apply for county loans and grants to help pay for the technology.

A law requiring cameras is no different from those that require businesses to install sprinklers, Kamenetz said.

But several speakers involved with the businesses urged councilmen to instead pass a resolution suggested by Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder that calls county police to study the issue and make recommendations.

"I want to make sure we do the right thing in a field where we're not experienced," Bartenfelder said.

The camera bill is scheduled for a council vote Monday. It was unclear yesterday when the resolution would be on the agenda.

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