By Julie Ann Madden
“Big Brother” is watching in downtown Akron, Iowa.
In a divided 3-2 vote, Akron police won approval to install an updated “high-end” camera surveillance system in downtown Akron.
This new system, which includes eight wireless cameras that photograph 360 degrees from their mounts, will provide a much higher level of crime deterrent, according to Akron Assistant Police Chief Jared Gares who presented the surveillance system request to the Akron City Council over the past few months.
These cameras come with special night vision capabilities and have a much higher pixel resolution, he said, noting eight cameras were recommended instead of six to cover the area more fully.
“We will be able to see vehicle license plates and do facial recognitions,” said Gares. “If mounted correctly, we’ll be able to see more than 180 degrees. We’ll see (close to 360 degrees) — everything but where the camera is mounted…like a panoramic camera photograph.”
“Sidewalks will be in view,” said Councilor Chad Ericson. “Street fronts will be in view.”
The $12,443.97 initial cost includes the eight cameras, computer data-collecting system, installation, and warranties of three years on the cameras and one year on the installation, he explained. After the first year, ongoing costs will include a $1,200 annual service agreement charge.
This was the lowest bid and was from Electronic Engineering Co. of Sioux City. Their employees can do a lot of troubleshooting when there are any problems from their Sioux City office and may not need to come to Akron to fix the system, said Gares. If they do have to come to Akron, the cost is $90 per hour (without a service agreement).
Councilors noted this may affect the police department’s budget as they are also planning to purchase a new patrol car this year.
“It comes back to we don’t have 24-hour patrol here,” said Gares. “It will deter much more than it will ever catch. That’s the bottom line.”
Councilor Barbara Johnson surveyed business owners and/or managers in the second and third blocks of Reed Street if they were in favor or opposed to having camera surveillance outside their businesses.
Of the 18 businesses asked, only one was against it, and that was Legacy Financial LLC owner Chad Ericson, who has adamantly opposed this at the council table as councilor. “If we foot the whole bill, I think it wouldn’t be out of line to go to the Chamber (of Commerce) and ask for some sort of reimbursement,” said City Clerk Nicolle DeRocher. “A lot of these businesses who are in favor of it are Chamber members, and it’s going to be supporting their business or preventing issues from happening at these businesses.”
“Any business that has a surveillance camera system on it, it will cut their insurance costs to some extent,” said Gares, noting the cameras will cover from The Akron Hometowner past Barwick’s Ag Parts & Service. “(The savings is) more than enough to pay for their own system the first year.”
Insurance underwriters who question camera presence may contact the Akron Police Department for verification, said Gares.
“I know there are cameras all over but I’m not in favor of it,” said Councilor Bob Frerichs. “To being watched downtown any time. I just don’t like the idea. There is too much Big Brother going on right now.”
“I think if it hadn’t been for cameras, they’d never have caught the Boston guys (who bombed the Boston Marathon),” said Councilor Barbara Johnson.
“Just so everybody’s aware — with two of us and a few part-time people, we don’t have time to just sit and watch people,” said Gares. “But it benefits us, 1) when we’re not out, and 2) when we are stuck in here doing paperwork and we hear something. We can look and we have an instant picture of what just happened outside before we go out the door and somebody’s shooting. That’s the worst case scenario but there’s pros and cons to the whole thing.”
“I think it would be a good addition to the city,” he said. “I think we’re just catching up. We’re not doing anything different than other towns are doing. It’s just a big step for us and as far as small towns in the county, it’s putting us ahead of the game.”
“I can see this from both directions,” said Ericson, agreeing with Bob Frerichs. “My concern is for people’s civil liberties and their ability to move freely without being under surveillance…It may be a deterrent but we can’t live with the fear that something is going to happen and we take our liberties away from moving freely without being watched.”
Only the police would have the ability to watch the videos, said Gares, However, tapes are released when a county attorney or judge orders its release after the end of a case — the same as it is now for other videos and documents.
“If there’s privacy issues, it needs to be taken off there — there is no expectation of privacy on a public street,” said Gares.
“It doesn’t necessarily affect me but it affects my clients — maybe somebody doesn’t want others to know what he’s doing,” said Ericson.
“The only way that would surface is if there is some sort of incident that would give us cause to bring up that portion of the video,” said Gares. “We’re not using it to watch people but to catch people.”
“Anything on that tape can be subpoenaed,” said Mayor Harold Higman Jr.
“A video is viable evidence,” said Gares.
“We would have found out who broke those windows down there,” said DeRocher.
“The one thing I want everyone to keep in mind is with the economy the way it is and no signs of improving at least for a little while, crime rates are up everywhere,” said Gares. “People are doing things they didn’t do before because they can’t make ends meet. Thefts, burglaries are up. It’s something maybe five years from now and the system is (worn out)…maybe you won’t need to get a new system.”
Johnson made the motion and Councilor Sharon Frerichs seconded it.