Crime Cameras: Eyes In The Sky Help Police, Businesses Cut Down On Crime
At the corner of Fourth Street and 8th Avenue in Columbus’ Weinland Park area is a quiet storefront.
One night, not too long ago, though, a man on a bicycle was nearly killed by an oncoming car.
Cameras, strategically positioned in the neighborhood, captured the accident and the aftermath. The bike rider survived the crash, which according to police, was his fault.
It is one of hundreds of examples of the city’s neighborhood safety cameras catching dangerous and potentially deadly activities.
And it’s becoming clearer that criminals around Columbus can run, but it’s getting tougher to hide.
On Mount Vernon Avenue, a man walked out of a store with two 12-packs of beer. The man was followed by the owner, who pulled out a gun and fired a warning shot into the air.
Thwarting the attempted robbery, the owner dragged the man back into the store at gunpoint to return the beer.
Police arrived on scene within 60 seconds. No charges were filed for either man.
Business manager Jafar Bintarif said that before the city installed a camera pointed right at Kim’s Market, where he works, there was a disturbing element surrounding his Livingston corner.
"I see in my eyes. This corner used to be the most drug activity in Columbus,” Bintarif said.
At very least - it was bad for business. Even residents on the street wouldn't come around.
"They're scared to come here. It's like 300, 400 feet from here. They're scared to come on this corner," the man said.
Bintarif said that people are right to be scared. He was almost killed when he took two bullets to his shoulder.
“I got shot twice at the front of my store,” he said.
Despite the shooting, Bintarif returned to work the next morning, determined to stand his ground.
He’s convinced that if the crime cameras that are up now were up then, police would have identified the shooter.
Since August 2011, 157 cameras have been installed in five Columbus neighborhoods.
Livingston Avenue has the most cameras, with 48 positioned in the neighborhood.
South Linden has 40 cameras, Weinland Park has 27, and in the Hilltop and Mount Vernon, 21 cameras are placed in each of the neighborhoods.
"They help deter crime. They help catch criminals," said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.
According to Coleman, one or two more communities are slated for crime cameras in 2013. The city is also looking at a dozen possible sites for future installations.
About $40,000 is the approximate cost for operating the cameras per location. The cost covers the cameras, infrastructure, computer servers and antennas.
The cameras feature pan, tilt and zoom options with facial recognition and clarity in identifying suspects.
The city’s Department of Public Safety says police and prosecutors routinely request video to help investigations. It’s something they have done between 400 to 500 times in the past year.
“I think overall in the neighborhoods that they’re located in, there’s more areas where there’s been a reduction in crime,” Coleman said.
Crime rates have gone down in some neighborhoods equipped with the cameras, but not all, according to city data.
The biggest concern for the city, according to the latest research by the public safety department, is the Livingston Avenue area, where crime is up 20 percent.
The biggest success story is the Weinland Park area, where crime is down 33 percent since the cameras went up.
“If we view this as the panacea, that would be a major mistake,” said Coleman. “We have to view it as one of the tools in the toolbox to fight crime in Columbus.”
People familiar with the area around Kim’s Market say they’ve seen a shift toward the positive.
They’re not saying that the cycle of crime has been broken in their neighborhood, and they’re not saying the cameras make bad people good.
They are saying that they’ve made some of the bad people go to some other place, though.
“If there is a relocation of crime, it moves criminals to another area. That gives police an advantage," Coleman said.
City officials say part of the strategy with the placement of cameras is to funnel criminal activity. By moving criminals’ comfort zones, police say, criminals make mistakes.
The days of hiding in the bushes to bust drug dealers are over.
Officers recently watched a series of drug deals go down on camera at a Mount Vernon Avenue location and were able to make arrests.
The mayor also says what’s surprised him most about the program is the demand for neighborhood cameras, saying it’s exceeded his expectations.
Bintarif credits the cameras for the transformation that's restored some trust in his neighborhood.
He believes the camera would be his witness and his evidence if he ever comes face to face with a firearm again.
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