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City will monitor all security cameras

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The Columbus Police Department will monitor live and recorded images from security cameras placed at locations throughout the city.

Images also can be watched on laptop computers in patrol cars, on police cellphones and on iPads, Mayor Kristen Brown said.

Last fall, Brown also approached Ed Reuter, director of the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center, about having 911 dispatchers monitor the live feeds.

County representatives began expressing concerns after Brown addressed the City Technology Advisory Committee during a March 14 meeting.

According to meeting minutes, “The mayor reported that she had personally discussed placement of the monitors at Central Dispatch with (911 Director) Ed Reuter, who is on board with the monitoring.”

In an April 1 letter to the committee and Columbus City Council, the commissioners stated that no such understanding or agreement exists that would allow monitors to be placed in the county-owned center.

The letter also stated that Reuter felt he didn’t have adequate staff to dedicate personnel to monitor the monitors, and that there was little room to accommodate more equipment in an already-crowded facility.

The mayor made her assumptions on a “impromptu and brief discussion (with Reuter) that occurred during the Columbus Marathon event in September that was apparently triggered, at least in part, by the fact that the State Police were using cameras to help monitor the crowd,” the letter stated.

County Attorney Grant Tucker advised against placing the city surveillance monitors in the 911 center, saying it is for dispatching emergency services, not policing.

“The public assumes that the monitors are being watched and that somebody will respond in the event that something wrong happens,” Tucker said. “That’s not the (emergency dispatchers’) job. As I understand it, they can’t possibly do their job and watch a monitor at the same time.”

He also was concerned about the county’s liability if the public believed the monitors were being watched constantly.

Unless personnel are dedicated to watching the monitors full time, the potential for legal liability is significant, Tucker said.

Tucker and the Bartholomew County Commissioners cited a lawsuit recently filed against Walmart by a central Indiana woman who was under store surveillance in December 2007.

In her lawsuit, the woman claims she had an expectation to believe the Walmart cameras were being monitored when a serial rapist approached her in the parking lot of a Noblesville store. The next day, the same man impersonated a delivery man to get inside the woman’s home, where she was raped and confined.

But Columbus city attorney Jeff Logston said he believes that as long as the public is clearly informed that cameras won’t be constantly monitored the city is not assuming additional liability.

“While we have no control over what people will file suit over, we do have a duty to use the tools available to us to make our residents safer,” Logston said. “In fact, I see this as an opportunity to decrease our liability because this shows we are taking affirmative steps to increase the level of service we offer to the community.”

Logston said the cameras will serve three purposes:

For early identification and warning of criminal activity.

To serve as a deterrent to criminals.

For investigative purposes.

“The primary value of these cameras is the recording,” Brown said.

Columbus has purchased 10 video cameras, to be installed next month. Four will be set up in the downtown area, and three will be positioned in neighborhoods near 11th and Washington streets, Brown said.

Three other locations will receive one camera each: Ninth Street Park, where one surveillance camera is already in place; Morningside Park; and the Columbus Police Department training facility, the mayor said.

Live monitoring likely will be reserved for large community events or immediately after a crime has been reported in areas where cameras are located, police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said.

“Our plan was really not for those monitors to be placed in the emergency operations center,” Brown said. “That’s not integral for what we are doing.”

What is integral is that, when coupled with the pro-active Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving unit and neighborhood watch programs, effective deterrents are being initiated to help stop crime and undesirable activities in Columbus neighborhoods, Brown said.

Brown and police emphasize there should be no public expectation of around-the-clock live monitoring.

“That will not happen, and that was never the intention,” Myers said.

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