Council ponders surveillance cameras

The City Council wants to know how much it will cost to install a video monitoring system in public areas of town before deciding what the cameras should monitor.

City staff will research the cost of equipment and installation for two options favored by the council out of the three presented Tuesday for consideration. The council has already allocated $90,000 for the project.

"I would like all three locations," Councilman Steven Dicterow said.

However the council voted unanimously to eliminate option two, which would have put cameras on routinely congested streets, and decided to move ahead on monitoring public areas after financial information is delivered on options one and three.

Option one provides for the installation of cameras in several downtown locations where many calls for emergency service originate, according to the staff report. Option three would put cameras at the entrances/exits of town and is considered to be a useful tool in the investigation of crime.

"Downtown," would be Police Capt. Jason Kravetz's preference if only one of the three options is selected.

"Cameras would decrease nuisance crimes," he said.

Suggested locations included the bus depot, the stairway between Broadway and Lower Cliff Drive, Forest Avenue and the Main Beach lifeguard tower.

"The bus depot has one; we monitor it and it has prevented crime," Kravetz said.

Option two would have put cameras on congested streets, including Forest Avenue, North and South Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road. These locations could be used to quickly identify heavy traffic, stalled vehicles or other obstructions.

Cameras could be of lower quality, with the emphasis more on traffic flow than criminal activity, Kravetz said.

Councilman Robert Whalen suggested that information about congestion is already made available to the public on Google. He opted for the downtown if only one location was selected.

Video monitoring installed at the exits of town, specified in option three, would require more expensive cameras, but would save investigators time, Kravetz said.

Video feeds are kept for two years.

Dicterow raised the issue of privacy, which he said concerns many people with whom he had talked.

Kravetz said cities that have installed the cameras prevailed in suits brought by American Civil Liberties Union. Locally, Dana Point has installed cameras along Coast Highway, according to Kravetz.

"And they were worth their weight in gold in Boston," Kravetz said, referring to the Boston Marathon tragedy.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman pointed out that many of the cameras that played a role in identifying the bombers were privately owned. She voiced her preference for option three and one.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson favors option three.

Pearson and Iseman were already on record in support of a monitoring system for public safety purposes.

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