Surveillance camera law expansion recommended

Panel says Balto. Co. legislation should also apply to big-box retailers


September 21, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,sun reporter

A committee set up to study legislation mandating video surveillance of shopping center parking areas is recommending changes that would expand the Baltimore County law's scope and provide exemptions for centers with uniformed security officers whose sole job is to monitor parking lots.

The law, spurred by the fatal shooting of a private school educator this year in a Towson mall's parking garage, should apply to big-box retailers, as well as the malls and large shopping centers that are already included in the legislation, according to the committee's final report.

The report, which was also designed to interpret the law's language and guide shopping center owners who will be required to install the technology by next fall, is scheduled to be discussed at a meeting today with the bill's lead sponsor and will be submitted to the County Council tomorrow.

What happens next will be up to the council. Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who introduced the legislation within days of the Feb. 18 killing of St. Paul's School educator William A. Bassett at Towson Town Center, said he will "certainly consider" the committee's recommendations.

"The goal of the bill was to push the property owners in the right direction," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "Not to hamstring their efforts, but to give them the incentive to do the right thing."

The Baltimore County law appears to be unique and has sparked inquiries from other governments - in Maryland and in other states - interested in the county's decision to pass the legislation and study the issue, said Baltimore County police Col. James W. Johnson, the committee chairman.

Anne Arundel County officials proposed a similar law, but tabled the measure to await the completion of the Baltimore County committee's study.

And while some shopping center owners were waiting for the committee to finish its work before installing systems, Towson Town Center, which had no security cameras in its garages at the time of Bassett's death, began working on plans to add the technology to its security plan before the Baltimore County legislation passed.

Charles Crerand, the mall's general manager, said the installation of a monitored surveillance system covering all public areas - in the parking lots and within the mall - is nearly complete, and is part of an overhaul of the center's security that also includes brighter lighting and enhanced patrols.

Under the law, shopping centers with 15 or more retail businesses must install video surveillance covering at least 75 percent of their parking areas during business hours. The bill also called for the creation of the committee, which was charged with studying shopping center security.

The committee, which met throughout the summer, recommended three changes to the law in its report. In addition to the big-box amendment, the group suggested changes that would either wholly or partly exempt centers that have officers dedicated to parking lot security.

Joan Hatfield, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, said she suspects all county shopping center owners affected by the legislation are already looking into the technology.

"Everyone is in the process of evaluating and doing the best they can to comply," said Hatfield, who served on the committee.

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