Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo addressed safety concerns and discussed the potential implementation of additional security cameras on the Downtown Mall last week.
In 2015, the City of Charlottesville addressed the lack of security on the Downtown Mall and asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate ways to increase safety.
Although some businesses on the mall have privately owned security cameras, City Councilor Kristin Szakos said these do not provide enough coverage.
“The private cameras don’t cover all the areas of the Mall,” Szakos said. “The current project is an effort to provide video coverage of the areas not visible in existing systems.”
Many local business owners support the installation of security cameras, including Joan Fenton, co-chair of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville and owner of J. Fenton Too and Quilts Unlimited/J. Fenton Gifts on the Downtown Mall.
“The Downtown Mall is a vibrant and very busy community, and at times we have up to 5,000-10,000 people downtown for large events,” Fenton said. “Cameras and the knowledge that there are cameras will help to keep it safe and give people an extra sense of security downtown.”
The 2014 disappearance and subsequent murder of University student Hannah Graham in Charlottesville and the 2013 disappearance of Alexis Murphy in Lovingston augment the need for increased security in public areas, Fenton said.
“In both cases, security cameras were the reason these two cases were solved,” Fenton said. “And we have seen other cases on the Mall and around the country where cameras were extremely helpful in solving crimes.”
Szakos also noted the importance of video footage in investigating violent crime.
“Private video recordings of the Downtown Mall were critical in identifying and finding Jesse Matthew, accused in the abduction and death of U.Va. student Hannah Graham, among others,” Szakos said.
Despite support from City Council, DBAC, the North Downtown Residents Association and members of the Charlottesville community, the implementation of cameras has been delayed due to limited funding and privacy concerns, Szakos said.
“On the other hand, video recording does not actually prevent crime, and in making difficult budget decisions, Council has previously chosen to allocate limited resources in providing police officers in neighborhoods rather than investing in a comprehensive monitoring system for the Mall,” Szakos said.
Despite arguments contending camera surveillance on the Downtown Mall would undermine privacy rights, Fenton said the pros of the system far outweigh the cons.
“I am a strong advocate for privacy and privacy rights, but I believe at this point… there is no expectation of privacy in public spaces, when everyone has a cell phone and many businesses and agencies have cameras,” Fenton said.
Longo also emphasized the necessity of heightened security measures on the Mall.
“In my opinion, there is no true downside,” Longo said. “Video surveillance technology can be very useful in the retrospective investigation of criminal offenses.”
The installation of security cameras would cost between $75,000 and $100,000, Longo said.
It was also announced Charlottesville police officers would begin wearing body cameras while on duty.
“This project has been underway for more than 18 months and was initiated because of the need to replace our obsolete in-car camera system,” Longo said.
Szakos said the current system of car-based cameras is aging, and research into possible replacements led the police department to implement body-worn cameras.
“Body-worn cameras have come to national prominence in helping to hold both police and the public accountable in police interactions, helping to determine any abuses and document what actually happened,” Szakos said. “I think they will help to further the efforts by the City police to foster a culture of accountability and trust in the community.”
Correction: the headline for this article previously stated the Charlottesville Police Department were going to install security cameras on the Downtown Mall. The CPD is considering a possible implementation of security cameras on the mall.