Council Nixes Security Cameras

RIDGEWAY – In a vote that hung precariously in the air for several strained moments, Town Council shot down a proposal to purchase a battery of security cameras for downtown Ridgeway during their regular meeting Jan. 9.

The motion, put on the floor by Councilman Doug Porter, nearly died for lack of a second, but was rescued by Mayor Charlene Herring who broke Council’s long silence and backed the motion herself. Porter and Herring quickly offered positive votes for the plan, but when Herring called for dissenting votes, the remaining Council members – Russ Brown, Belva Bush and Donald Prioleau – were again silent.

“You can’t ride the fence on it,” Porter urged his colleagues, and Herring, at last, polled each of the remaining Council members for their vote.

One at a time, then, Prioleau, Bush and Brown voted against the purchase of the cameras.

The vote came after an extensive debate on the issue, as well as an appeal by Ridgeway merchant Denise Jones, co-owner of the Cotton Yard Market.

“As a merchant, it is my utmost concern to operate a business in a safe and secure environment,” Jones read from a written statement at the outset of the meeting. “Just last night, as we left our Merchant’s meeting at the Cotton Yard Market, we were the only people on the street at 6:30 p.m. Often, it is just a few women who are there and leaving.

“We had requested that you provide security cameras outside to not only protect us but our customers as well,” Jones continued. “We have asked for very little and this would give us some comfort as we run our businesses.”

Council had tabled the matter during their December meeting as Prioleau said the Police Department had other more pressing needs that should be addressed before cameras are installed. Prioleau also suggested during December’s discussion that wildlife cameras may be a less expensive alternative to high-tech security cameras. But last week, Brown noted that wildlife cameras are far too easy to steal to be considered a viable alternative.

“I don’t want anybody to think I’m against cameras,” Prioleau said at last week’s meeting. “I’m not. But there are other parts of this police department that need to be brought up to standards, then do the cameras. If we had two or three officers hired, get the department computers, then it’s time for the cameras.”

But Herring, repeating a clarification she had made during the December discussion of cameras, reminded Prioleau that money to purchase cameras would have to come from the Town’s contingency fund. Funding for hiring police officers, as well as for computers – both of which have associated recurring costs – must come from the Town’s general fund budget. The contingency fund, she said, was money that could only be spent on one-time costs for capital improvements.

Bush said she was “baffled” that the Ridgeway Police Department lacked basic technology in the form of computers, and said the purchase of computers should come first. Herring countered by saying the Town had the money for both. And, Herring added, with the Dec. 27 resignation of recently hired officer Malcolm Little, cameras were a priority.

“I think we need (cameras) in order to assure safety,” Herring said, “because we’re still a ways from getting the help we need in the Police Department.”

But Brown said he had reviewed incident reports from the Ridgeway Police Department from the last three years and questioned the actual need for security cameras. Brown said the reports comprised 26 total incidents over the last three years. Nine of those, he said, occurred at businesses that have their own security camera systems. Eleven of the incidents occurred at residences that wouldn’t be covered by the proposed camera system. That leaves six incidents downtown in the last three years, Brown said.

Ridgeway received three bids in November for security camera systems – a $4,987.35 bid from Electronic Systems, a $2,570 bid from Capture It Surveillance and a $1,669.20 bid from Cor Digital Technology.

Council also put off the purchase of a computer for the Police Department, electing instead to attempt to utilize an existing computer that they said did not have the memory capacity to handle certain specific software used by law enforcement agencies. While the purchase of a computer would be a one-time cost, recurring costs for software licenses, virus protection and Internet service could run as high as $1,200 a year. If the existing computer proves inadequate, Porter stated in his motion, the Town would move forward with the purchase of a new desktop for approximately $900.

In other business, Council upped their contribution for the Big Grab cross-county yard sale to $61. This year’s event is slated for Sept. 5 and 6. Council also approved the purchase of a new chlorinator for the Water Department, estimated to cost between $1,200 and $1,400.