No Records Measure Surveillance Camera Effectiveness

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COLUMBIA - Surveillance cameras in Columbia keep watch for crime at four separate intersections downtown, but due to a lack of record keeping, it's not clear how effective they've been in solving crime since their installation in 2010.

"They've helped in several cases," Columbia Police Sgt. Joe Bernhard said. "I don't have any stats, you know, on how many cases or if there's video that helped solve a case."

Taxpayers fronted $75,000 for the cameras' installation, and the city pays maker ISG Technology $21,000 per year for their maintenance. 

"Think about about all the other tools we use to help us solve a crime," City Manager Mike Matthes said. "The armor we assign to every police officer is very expensive, but we think that's worth it, right? We'd rather have them armored than not. The uniforms are expensive. The badges aren't cheap. We do certain things because we feel like they're important, and the cameras are that way, too."

The eight cameras keep watch from Broadway and Hitt Street, Ninth and Cherry Street, Tenth and Broadway, and Tenth and Cherry Street. However, the cameras at Tenth and Broadway failed to capture the infamous shots fired in June 2013. Instead, someone's smart phone video helped solve the case.

"They can't cover everything," Bernhard said. "The ones that can pan and zoom – those aren't monitored 24 hours a day. We don't have the staff to monitor them. But generally, the cameras are there, and they're always recording and then after an event, we'll go back and look at the recordings."

Matthes said limited camera functionality is not the city's biggest issue. Columbia has been in need of more police staff for years.

"We're about 30 percent understaffed," Matthes said. "That's from a long history of, you know, the city has grown and our funding has slowly eroded away."

However, Matthes said if the city were able to hire more protection officers, a position for someone to monitor the surveillance cameras would not be one of them.

As the city's contract with ISG comes to an end next year, it raises the question whether the city--which can't tally a count of how many cases the cameras have assisted solving--should invest in more cameras or renew its agreement.

"I know this has been before the city council several times," Bernhard said. "It's a controversial topic. It'll be up to the city council and the people of Columbia if we we get more cameras or not."

Until then, Matthes said he did not know when the cameras discussion will return as an official item on the agenda at the city council.

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