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Cost cited as obstacle in moving Tampa's RNC security cameras

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:49 PM
TAMPA -

Cameras installed in downtown Tampa for the Republican National Convention are staying put, but city officials are still deciding how the surveillance system will be used.

For weeks, the Tampa City Council has debated the need for the cameras now that the convention is over. Several council members expressed interest in moving a few of the cameras to neighborhoods rife with crime.

During a council meeting Thursday, police Chief Jane Castor laid out the biggest obstacle in relocating even one camera: the cost.

"Moving them is so expensive that, for the same cost, we can build a new system in those areas," Castor said.

It would cost $5,000 apiece to move cameras with lenses that can tilt, pan and zoom, and hooking up electricity to a camera could cost at least $3,000, she said.

If the camera has to be installed on a tall pole because there are no other structures nearby, the city would have to spend another $10,000, Castor said.

Labor costs are estimated at $1,200.

The cameras are connected to a wireless network, and won't work if they're out of range of each other, she said.

So it would cost $20,000 and $30,000 to move a camera outside of the wireless network, Castor said.

The cost breakdown is just one issue surrounding the cameras that council members have requested for two weeks.

On Sept. 20, the council held a workshop to discuss the possibility of drafting an ordinance regulating the use of the cameras.

The council approved paying for the $2 million, closed-circuit system in March, on the condition the workshop was held after the GOP convention to decide the fate of the cameras.

But because of miscommunication, key city officials — among them Castor and City Attorney Jim Shimberg — did not attend the workshop two weeks ago.

Council members were upset that no one was there to answer their questions and a decision on the cameras was delayed.

Castor told council members Thursday she sees four options for the cameras: turn them off; leave them unmonitored, but constantly on, to record crime; turn them on only during large-scale events such as Gasparilla or another Super Bowl; or have police officers monitor them in shifts 24 hours a day.

Castor said the last option doesn't appeal to her because it would put too much of a burden on her officers.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he has the power to make the final decision on the system — and he wants them to stay right where they are.

The city paid for the system, so "we're keeping them," Buckhorn said last month.

The contract with the vendor also gives the city free maintenance of the system for a year, worth about $164,000. When that runs out, the council will vote on whether it will approve money to continue maintaining the system and updating its software.

There are 119 cameras, 78 of which are affixed to downtown buildings and intersections. Twenty-five additional cameras are at Tampa Police Headquarters, which replaced an outdated system, and 16 cameras are mobile units but attached to large trailers.

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, the only person who voted against the cameras in March, said Thursday she felt the council rushed its decision on giving the cameras a green light. "The reality is, we have the power of the purse and we gave that up in March," Mulhern said.

Now that it appears likely the cameras are staying put, council members insisted Thursday the surveillance system has to be regulated in some way.

The council voted 6-1 to allow its attorney, Martin Shelby, to meet with Shimberg to draft an ordinance on the cameras' use. Mulhern was again the only dissenting vote.

"I don't believe we should have the cameras at all," she said.

Councilman Mike Suarez said he wants an ordinance "to make sure the public trusts us when it comes to using these cameras."

Councilwoman Yvonne Capin said cameras are everywhere these days and that people should just get used to them. "We're being watched all the time. Anyone who doesn't realize that is living in a fantasy land," Capin said. "We cannot vilify them. We have to regulate them."


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920

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