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UI Student Government helps fund cameras on Ped Mall

BY MICHELLE HILLENBRAND | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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The University of Iowa Student Government is contributing $2,000 to a project aimed at making downtown Iowa City safer.

The program would install eight cameras that would record activity on the Pedestrian Mall.

UISG President Michael Currie and Vice President J.D. Moran campaigned on a platform that promised to improve safety — something they say the cameras will do.

“One of our platform goals was to improve safety, so we think it’s a good idea to put cameras up,” said Mora.

Student-government officials will donate the money, which comes from a portion of student-activity fees, to the Downtown Association before Currie and Moran leave office. Because the amount of the donation is under $5,000, UISG’s executive board was able to make the decision without the entire student government’s approval.

Downtown Association President Leah Cohen said she hopes the cameras will be installed in May.
The association has raised $25,000 from local businesses toward the $37,000 needed for the cameras and maintenance.

Eight cameras will be installed for a three-year pilot project. They will be installed on private businesses’ exteriors, record for 24 hours a day, and be erased each week. While members of the public will not be able to view the tapes, they will be available to police if incidents occur, Cohen said.

“They aren’t really there to be scaring anyone,” she said. “They are strictly there for safety.”

Cohen said the Downtown Association would implement an extensive educational project and place signs downtown to let citizens know the cameras are present. Eventually, she said, she hopes the cameras would be funded by a federal grant.

The Pedestrian Mall the last few years has been the site of some violence. Last year, an increase in male-on-male violence spurred Iowa City police to increase the number of night patrol officers.

The success of cameras in reducing violence has been contested by Brandon Welsh, an associate professor of criminology at Northeastern University, whose research has shown closed-circuit television has no effect on decreasing crime in town centers.

Despite the optimism of the Downtown Association in reducing violence downtown, some students are opposed to the student government’s donation.

Jeff Shipley, UISG’s liaison to the Iowa City City Council, said he was concerned police would overstep their boundaries in using the cameras.

“There is an abuse there, where they could be used for a purpose well beyond their original intent,” he said.

Shipley said he thinks students would be upset if they knew their student fees were being used to “spy on them” downtown.

Sophomore business student Caitlin Hillsman also said she opposes the donation, noting patrolling the Pedestrian Mall is a job best left to the city and should not involve money contributed by students.

“If we are paying that money as students, it should be going toward things that directly benefit us as students,” she said.


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