Security cameras proposed at Franklin and Nicollet intersection

STEVENS SQUARE — A neighborhood task force is looking into the possibility of installing a security camera system at the corner of Franklin and Nicollet Avenues to reduce alcohol-related offenses and other crimes.

The Stevens Square Community Organization’s (SSCO) Task Force to Reduce Alcohol-Related Crime hosted a community meeting with police and City Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) earlier this month to discuss how camera systems work, criteria for installation, logistics and cost.

The task force, assembled in February, has recognized the Franklin and Nicollet intersection as one of the neighborhood’s most problematic in terms of nuisance crimes. Between the first of the year and the end of September, police arrested or issued citations to 86 people for narcotics, prostitution or alcohol-related offenses near the intersection.

Task Force Co-chair Jay Damberg said many in the community would feel safer at the corner with a camera keeping constant watch.

"From what I’ve heard, people are very much in favor of it," Damberg said. "The big question is how to pay for it."

A security camera system would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement, said Deputy Chief Robert Allen of the Minneapolis Police Department. Each camera would cost roughly $15,000–$25,000, and the city would never fund a single camera because of the complex and costly infrastructure needed to run it. The cameras themselves are cheap compared to the required electric power, computer network, software and other pieces needed to run an effective system, he said.

The Safe Zone area in Downtown has a 30-camera system that cost roughly $1.5 million to install and takes about $100,000 annually to maintain, he said. But it’s responsible for hundreds of arrests for robberies, assaults, narcotics, and other crimes and is a big help in court. Of all the people arrested for offenses caught on camera, 100 percent have either plead guilty or been convicted, Allen said.

A 3rd Precinct camera system has also helped reduced crime, Allen said, and a new 4th Precinct system seems to be having an impact, but it’s too early to tell for sure. Allen doesn’t attribute crime drops in camera zones to the systems alone — police and community efforts are big factors, he said.

The 5th Precinct does not have any camera systems except for stationary cameras installed along the Midtown Greenway.

 At the moment, individual precincts are required to monitor camera systems with their desk staff. Police have responded immediately to crimes caught on tape, but not every camera can be monitored all the time, so footage is also retrieved to identify offenders after a crime, Allen said. He said a central monitoring station complete with staff specifically trained to watch cameras is planned as part of a new emergency response center that is in the works.  

Before a camera system is installed, police need to determine an area’s need for it, whether the community wants it, and whether it would be a good fit for the type of vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the neighborhood, Allen said. The City Council would also need to approve it.

Lilligren said a neighborhood that could offer partial funding for a camera system would be more likely to receive Council
support.  

"Some type of neighborhood contribution is necessary to move you up the priority list," he said at the meeting this month, which was well attended by residents from Stevens Square and Whittier.

Residents asked questions about funding, implementation and other factors involved in creating a camera system. One meeting attendee asked how many police officers could be added to the force for the cost of a camera system. Allen used a hypothetical example of a $2 million system that would probably last for five years. That much cash would fund 10 officers for the same amount of time, he said.

Another meeting attendee asked if the Police Department could "mine" footage to track individuals and cars. Allen said the
department does not have a policy in place yet that addresses those privacy issues, but all footage is public information that could be obtained by anyone.

Some meeting attendees said they would feel safer with cameras at the intersection.

"This is a little scary," said area resident Susan Barker, 63, as she looked at a map plotting the corner’s arrests for drugs, prostitution and alcohol offenses.

Barker said she rides the bus and always gets off at the Franklin and Nicollet stop, which is near her home. Walking in the area alone, she said she would feel more comfortable knowing everything is on film.

Damberg, a former employee of Acadia Café located at the corner, said it’s not uncommon to see inebriated people passed out or causing disturbances at the intersection. The camera system is an option for improving the area, but the task force is also looking at other options, he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.