Gulfport Could Try Camera on 49th Street

Criminals on 49th Street could soon contend with surveillance cameras. At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Ward Three Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon and Mayor Sam Henderson supported exploring the idea of a surveillance camera along the 49th Street corridor.

 The city would not point the camera into a home or onto private property, City Manager Jim O’Reilly told council. He will research the costs and feasibility of installing a surveillance camera on a trial basis to determine its efficacy.

 Mayor Henderson long opposed the cameras, but Tuesday night he said he had an open mind and wanted to explore the idea.

 “It’s not that I’m opposed to [using] cameras as well [as other measure,” Mayor Henderson said. He said he had concerns about criminals breaking cameras. Lieutenant Joshua Stone said that Baltimore, who had success with cameras, initially underestimated the cost of maintaining cameras. Even so, he said the city saved money.

 “For every one dollar they spent on cameras, they saw a societal savings of $1.5,” Stone said, explaining that “societal savings” meant crime-related spending.

 Mayor Henderson said he would like to see a trial area “if it’s cost effective.”

 The camera discussion came as part of a larger discussion about 49th Street.

 Since 2004, 52% of all reported robberies have occurred along the 49th Street Corridor. Of those, 59% occurred at night.

 At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Lieutenant Stone presented council with several suggestions, including upgrading the lighting along the corridor.

 “There is no silver bullet, and there are no guarantees,” Gulfport Lieutenant Joshua Stone said about 49th Street.

 “We can’t say it’s going to do it, but it’s an option,” Lieutenant Stone said. Currently the city has low sodium vapor lighting on 49th Street; Lieutenant Stone said a Rensselaer Polytech study showed that street lighting improvements “improve the feeling of safety and possibly reduce crime.”

 “It has the lowest cost, but it has the poorest color rendering,” he said of the city’s current lighting. He explained that not having accurate descriptions hindered criminal investigation.

 Between 49th and 52nd Streets from 7th Avenue to the marina, Gulfport has 800 lights. The city could replace these with LED lights, which Stone said would use less lumens and provide better visibility. The city could also install metal halide lights, which would offer better lighting than the current lighting but not as good as LED. Metal halide lights would cost less, he told council.

 Lieutenant Stone said the city police chief, Rob Vincent, would not recommend surveillance cameras unless the city had public support, although, Lieutenant Stone reported, some parts of Baltimore saw a 20% decrease in crime with surveillance cameras.

 Ward Four Councilman Michael Fridovich supported brighter lighting on 49th Street but not on the side streets; Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke appeared not to support any of the police-suggested ideas.

 Mayor Henderson said he favored metal halide lighting on 49th Street wanted to move criminal investigations to 49th Street and have police there at night.

 As a next step, City Manager Jim O’Reilly will gather cost information about upgrading to metal halide lights on 49th Street and “examining the possibility” of using one surveillance camera on a trial basis in a test location and LED street lights on a small scale. He will also look at costs associated with adding a position to the police department so that the 49th Street Community Resource Officer can devote 100% of his time to 49th Street. Staff will also look into moving the criminal investigation department from the current police building to 49th Street.

 Council rejected adding four officers for a street crimes task force and sending an officer to a county-wide violent crimes task force.