Friday, Dec 26, 2014

St. Pete trail camera initiative may get county’s help

BY CHRISTOPHER O’DONNELL
Tribune staff

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— Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch wants the county to chip in on St. Petersburg’s plan to install security cameras on a crime-plagued section of the Pinellas Trail.

Following a spate of muggings of cyclists, city officials earlier this month hatched a plan to spend $100,000 on 25 high-resolution security cameras in the Childs Park area.

But their request to the county to help with costs was rebuffed by Interim County Administrator Mark Woodard, who said the county had no spare funds and he did not want to set a precedent by contributing toward a city’s law enforcement costs.

Welch, whose district includes much of St. Petersburg, proposed this week that the county pay up to $50,000 to support the pilot program and be willing to help pay for cameras along other parts of the trail if they prove successful in deterring crime and helping law enforcement catch criminals.

“We’re getting some feedback that it’s your trail, you’re not partnering with us,” Welch said. “We have an opportunity to protect that investment for our citizens by making an exception to that rule that we won’t invest in law enforcement activities on the trail.”

Roughly 15 miles of the 43-mile trail is in unincorporated Pinellas. In addition to St. Petersburg, it also passes through Seminole, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.

Welch proposed the county limit funding to $50,000 per community and make the contribution dependent on cities using a compatible system, so police in one city have access to cameras elsewhere.

He said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has expressed an interest in the program and wants it to be vetted by the Pinellas Trail Security Task Force.

Other commissioners were largely supportive, but they said the money should not come from the county general fund but instead federal transportation grants or police trust funds.

The exception was Commissioner Susan Latvala, who questioned how effective the cameras would be in deterring criminals. “Doesn’t it drive the incidents someplace else?” she said.

St. Petersburg’s plan would have the cameras installed along a half-mile section of the former railroad between 43rd and 49th streets south, just north of Eighth Avenue South.

The cameras are not likely to be monitored 24 hours a day, but police officers would be able to view camera footage from police headquarters and in patrol cars using laptops and smartphones.

City officials have said they plan to proceed regardless of whether the county helps with the cost. Commissioners likely are to review the proposal at a future meeting.

“The trail is safe, and we need to say that, but there are some hot spots on the trail that are problematic,” Welch said. “Having another set of eyes on the trial would be comforting to the folks that use it.”

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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