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by Daniel Schere

Committee forwards downtown camera proposal to Winston-Salem city council

daniel@yesweekly.com | @Daniel_Schere

Winston-Salem is set to become the latest city in North Carolina to implement a camera system in its downtown area. At its meeting Monday night, the public safety committee voted to approve a roughly $85,000 project that would put cameras in locations around the city deemed “hot spots,” or areas where there is a high concentration of crime.

In his presentation to the committee, Chief of Police Barry Rountree cited ways in which camera technology has helped in solving high profile cases like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the disappearance of a student at the University of Virginia and the abduction of a Philadelphia woman last week whose perpetrator was found using a camera.

“The cameras were very instrumental in solving these cases,” he said.

Rountree added that there have also been crimes in Winston-Salem where a camera might have caught the culprit, such as a rape that occurred in a portable restroom and a shooting at the Embassy Suites hotel on Nov. 2 “” near one of the recommended locations for the cameras. Raleigh, Charlotte and Fayetteville already have security camera systems and Greensboro is contemplating them as well.

The focus of the cameras will be on crimes classified as part 1 crimes and include rape, homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. Included in the presentation was a series of maps showing a shaded in series of concentric circles in each of the city’s wards, with the red center circle representing the highest concentration of part 1 crime. Rountree said of all the areas in the city, the Northeast Ward had the most part 1 crime between 2012 and 2014.

The area of highest crime concentration in the Northeast Ward is traversed by East Hanes Mill Road and bordered by University Parkway. Downtown, the most dangerous spot is roughly at the intersection of West Fourth Street and North Marshall Street. In the Northwest Ward, the intersection of West Fourth Street and North Poplar Street was the most common area for crime. In the South Ward, the hot spot is bordered by Peters Creek Parkway and Stafford Village Boulevard. In the Southeast Ward, Waughtown Street cuts through the middle of the hotspot. In the Southwest Ward, Hanes Mall Boulevard intersects Silas Creek Parkway at the hotspot’s center. In the East Ward, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive intersects East Fifth Street in the hotspot. In the West Ward Country Club Drive intersects Peace Haven Road in the hotspot. And in the North Ward, North Cherry Street runs through the heart of the hotspot.

The cameras will be set up along Cherry and Trade Streets running north-south, and Fourth and Fifth Streets running eastwest. They will also be set up around Merschel Plaza, Corpening Plaza and Winston Square Park. Rountree added that he understands the concerns about privacy but added that it is only special events where several people would be in the camera locations.

“There’s not anywhere in the city where thousands of citizens or tourists congregate on weekdays or weekends,” he said.

At the meeting councilman Jeff MacIntosh asked whether the cameras would be monitored constantly, to which Rountree replied that they would be in some situations.

“If we know that there is going to be a special event going on downtown at the mall tomorrow, for example, and we had a camera project up and running we have the ability to have officers monitor those cameras where they could call in situations or alert officers on the ground to a situation before it starts,” Rountree said.

MacIntosh said he is pleased with the cameras but thinks the city should take somewhat more proactive security measures.

“It really does seem to be sort of a defensive system versus an offensive system whereas a monitored camera system would be more likely to prevent crime that is taking place,” he said.

MacIntosh asked Rountree about the possibility of purchasing a webcam system, something he said is relatively inexpensive. Rountree said the system they are considering would be on a network of sorts “” something Fayetteville’s system currently has.

“It does have the capability where we could tie into other camera systems. Like if there’s a business downtown, a restaurant for example,” he said.

Rountree said officers could also pull up crime statistics on their in-car computers.

Councilman James Taylor Jr. said he understands the cameras are being implemented not to counteract a danger to any particular community, but to monitor crime that goes between wards.

“I know privacy and safety’s an issue, but I’ll speak for myself,” he said.

“I know that there are some areas in the southeast in my neighborhood where I wouldn’t mind you posting cameras because I know that I’m safe from break-ins and would be able to catch who is involved.”

Councilwoman Molly Leight said she would be in favor of adding cameras to large shopping centers if they end up expanding the project beyond downtown.

Resident Dan Dwight spoke in favor of putting in the cameras, agreeing with Rountree’s rationale of using technology to solve high-profile cases.

“If you ask that young lady in Pennsylvania that was saved last week, I’m sure she would tell you she’s for cam- eras,” he said. !

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