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Tampa council put off fate of RNC surveillance cameras

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:46 PM
TAMPA -

City council members have expressed interest in moving some surveillance cameras installed downtown for the Republican National Convention to more crime-ridden areas of Tampa.

But council members at a Thursday meeting were frustrated when top members of the city's administration — including police Chief Jane Castor and city attorney Jim Shimberg — were not present to talk about the cost of relocating and maintaining the cameras.

"No one in the administration showed up to answer our questions," Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said.

Without input from officials who are familiar with the legalities and cost of the surveillance system, the city council voted to continue discussing its options at an Oct. 4 workshop.

Council members are requesting Castor, Shimberg and members of the city's code enforcement and other departments to appear at that meeting.

Thursday's workshop was intended to be an opportunity for the council to draft an ordinance regarding how the cameras will be used now that the RNC is over. Council members approved the $2 million system in March on the condition that they will have a say on whether the system will be taken down or used elsewhere.

The money to purchase the system came from a $50 million fund set aside by Congress for convention security.

Since then, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said that he will decide on the cameras' use and that the council can only regulate how the costs of maintaining the system are doled out.

"We're keeping them," Buckhorn said. "There's a year's maintenance associated with the contract anyway. It starts with the final payment, which we haven't made yet."

Buckhorn said he's amenable to the council's suggestions that some cameras be moved from downtown to neighborhoods with high crime or to parking garages and lots that need more surveillance.

"I would be open to deploying them wherever we need them," Buckhorn said.

Now that Buckhorn has made it clear he wants to keep the cameras, Councilman Harry Cohen said he feels that city administrators don't value the opinions of the council.

"To me, it's a signal that our input is not asked for and our input is not wanted," Cohen said.

On Thursday, police revealed the number of cameras installed for the convention — 78 cameras in 58 locations downtown, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

There are an additional 20 cameras on the outskirts of downtown and another 16 mobile cameras that can be mounted on trailers.

The Tampa Police Department also installed 25 new cameras around its downtown headquarters to replace an old system, McElroy said.

Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin said she wished police and city officials were more transparent with the number of cameras, because for months they said there were about 60 downtown.

Cohen said he has seen the surveillance system in action and that "most of the cameras are deployed at traffic intersections" and "can't zoom in and focus on a license plate."

No one monitors the cameras live, Cohen said, and the images are recorded.

Police Capt. Mike Baumaister told the council that footage recorded during the convention will be kept for four years "for liability purposes," because it was a national security event.

But any footage taken in the future will be kept only 30 days, then deleted, he said.


rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920

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