Dec. 17--COMING TUESDAY: City asks High Street property owners not to use salt on sidewalks.
Morgantown's downtown businesses are beginning to employ the watchful eyes of specialized security cameras to protect their interests.
About three years ago, Main Street Morgantown assembled a downtown taskforce to address the issue of increasing vandalism. The result is the group's Security Camera Grant.
Main Street will give a rebate of up to $1,500 to business owners purchasing a securitycamera system from selected vendors.
"The idea was that we have an 18-hour downtown, with a major component being that we have an entertainment district," said Terri Cutright, MSM executive director. "We found we had challenges such as vandalism to deal with."
Main Street will use money allocated to the group in the city's budget as an incentive to help businesses better protect themselves, she said.
"We reviewed a lot of other communities -- mainly those that were college towns that had installed security cameras downtown," she said. "One of those was Athens, Ga., home to the University of Georgia, which showed positive results."
MSM selected Secure US Inc., of Morgantown, and Forbes Security Unlimited Inc., of Westover, as the city's two "preapproved vendors." Should other vendors be selected, businesses still are eligible for the grant.
The selected companies each offer a four-camera system option for about $5,000, with additional packages available on request. Businesses purchasing this package end up paying about $3,500 for the four-camera option.
The package includes a digital video recorder with four cameras. With the cameras, businesses get lenses protected by an "armor dome" made of Kevlar. The package also includes a monitor and installation.
"We just finished installing cameras inside and out at Wings Ole' on University," said Gary Deel, with Secure US. "The city is most interested in placing cameras outside, because businesses have had problems with broken windows. But businesses are installing the cameras inside as well to help police identify individuals that commit theft or burglary, and to help monitor store employees."
Tapes can be reviewed at a secure Web site, meaning a password is required.
"A basic four-camera system will pay for itself within a year," Deel said. "We're getting a lot of feedback and have about 10 proposals out right now. As far as use in a small business, there is usually one camera placed in front of the store, one overseeing the cash register area and also at other locations inside the store."
Bernie Bossio has installed 32 similar cameras to help keep secure family-owned businesses on and near High Street.
"We have them on both the exterior and interior of our buildings, and we've experienced a 90 percent reduction in vandalism," he said. "I think the reduction comes from making people know they are being watched."
The DVR format allows more than one person at a time to view what the cameras have picked up, including police or other investigators, as well as business owners.
"I can be logged on and the police can be logged on at the same time," he said. "And bullets will bounce off the Kevlar-covered lenses."
Bossio said the next step of innovative security coming for which Morgantown might serve as a test city is a camera with a lens that can pick up simultaneous images at 360 degrees.
Augusta Systems, off Collins Ferry Road, has developed this technology and sells the unique lens and other system software to the U.S. Department of Defense.
"We and Main Street have talked about what they would like to do," said Patrick Esposito, the company's chief operating officer. "We offer the technology that allows the viewing on one screen of what multiple cameras are picking up. We integrate the system a bit further so state police, first responders and others can be involved. We're trying to take that concept and present it to the city in an official presentation."