Downtown security cameras rarely used


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Local police have only accessed footage from the Pedestrian Mall cameras two times in the last three months — and they didn’t find what they were looking for.

But after eight months with the video surveillance, local officials and downtown business owners stand by its importance, and insist the eight security cameras have contributed to a calmer downtown environment.

The Iowa City Downtown Association purchased and installed the cameras in June 2010 with $30,000 in donations as part of a three-year pilot project, in hopes of deterring crime and downtown violence on the Pedestrian Mall.

While officials said other factors — including the 21-ordinance and an additional downtown University of Iowa police shift — likely have contributed to the change, police and downtown business owners insist the cameras were not a waste of funds.

“I think the 21-ordinance has helped calm down the downtown area late at night,” Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. “But that doesn’t mean the cameras aren’t going to be beneficial to us … there are other things that happen downtown that aren’t just the result of people at the bars at night.”

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While neither department documents how often the cameras are accessed, Brotherton said the Iowa City police have only accessed them a handful of times, and the footage officers sought took place off camera.

Associate Director of UI police David Visin said his department has never sought access to the video footage.

If the project proves successful after three years — which will be determined by a matrix in the process of being created by the Partnership for Alcohol Safety — the Downtown Association said it would consider adding more cameras with approximately $250,000 in federal grant money.

Nick Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown Association also stood by the purchase, despite the effect the 21-ordinance has had on downtown traffic.

“I don’t think there’s a direct correlation with the people under 21 in bars and crime and violence downtown,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a waste [of money] at all.”

Iowa City property developer Marc Moen, who owns the Pedestrian Mall’s Plaza Towers, 201 S. Linn St., said cameras can help property owners determine exactly how damage occurs — and it isn’t always intoxicated students.

“Students get blamed for everything, and a lot of the time that person is innocent,” Moen said, recalling an incident in which a glass door of the hotelVetro shattered because of an electronic door malfunction.

Brotherton said the only problem police have encountered is cameras not capturing every incident — one reason she would support adding more cameras if the pilot project proves successful.

Officials purchased the cameras from the security company Physecure, and company President Patrick Gordon said technicians tried to cover as much of the Pedestrian Mall as possible, taking input from police into consideration.

“You need to balance the high-activity areas where there are a lot of people and a lot going on,” Gordon said. “But then there are also the lower activity areas, where someone sitting on a bench might be more likely to be the victim of a crime.”

While Moen said the cameras have helped deter littering and public urination, he said he is more happy about the how the UI, the Downtown Business Association, and police have been able to unify.

“In fairness, I don’t think one can say we put cameras up, life is good,” Moen said. “But what you can say is there has been a lot of attention on downtown and a lot of people working together.”

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