Conyers eyes video surveillance

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

BUFORD -- Public safety took a front seat during the second day of the Conyers City Council's annual planning retreat Saturday with detailed discussion of how technology can help policing efforts.

Mayor Randy Mills and the council traveled to Lake Lanier on Friday afternoon for the first day of the retreat, which included a presentation from the city staff and department heads. Officials picked up work again Saturday.

Police Chief Gene Wilson addressed the council during the first half of the day. He presented the 2010 crime statistics, along with requests for personnel, technology, and equipment. The chief asked for 10 officers, two detectives and four part-time communication officers. He quoted 99,844 calls for service in 2010, the most volume since 2005. A detailed outline of goals and objectives included plans to build up an anti-gang unit and a community liaison.

However, most of the lengthy discussion went on Saturday where council members weighed in on CPD's proposal to set up citywide video surveillance for a real-time crime center.

Total cost estimates got to $350,000 Saturday, calculating costs for cameras and staffing. The cameras would be equipped with high-definition optics and the ability to pan and zoom. The camera could also be equipped to respond to sounds of gunshots, glass shattering in burglaries and facial recognitions.

"It is an issue for me," Councilman Marty Jones said, jokingly comparing it to communist practices. "This is pretty big brother-ish. I'm just uncomfortable with the whole concept."

Wilson clarified the cameras would just be put in the commercial district and high-crime areas.

Mills pointed out that the presence of cameras would serve as a deterrent to criminals.

"It's the world we live in, unfortunately," Councilman Gerald Hinesley said, referencing security measures at airports. "I have no problem with that because I want a safe flight. I want a safe community."

Addressing Jones' concerns, some council members suggested policies can be put in place to restrict how long people can be watched.

"Who can argue that having a camera looking down at LA Fitness and the Walmart parking lot is a bad thing," Lucas said.

Red-light cameras and license plate recognition cameras received a good response from officials for installation at the major intersections. That proposal would first require approval from the state transportation then go to City Council for final approval.

Wilson also discussed details of a proposed new special events ordinance. One of the biggest proposed change is requiring a 30-day notice requirement for parades, demonstrations and special events in the city. It is a change from the current 48 hour advance requirement and would make the ordinance similar to the county's special events ordinance.

There are also plans to set a legal curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. for minors 17 years old and under. Parents or guardians of violators could face up to 6 months in jail or probation or up to $1,000 fine.

Wilson wanted to put the ordinance "on the fast track" to get it in place.

"It lets people know we're serious," Mills said.