Charlottesville, Va., Considering Security Cameras

The city should purchase and install security video cameras throughout the downtown area to increase public safety, police are recommending.

Police officials say the cameras would help deter crime and aid in investigations by providing surveillance footage.

Though no formal proposal has been drafted, police are suggesting the city purchase about 30 cameras at a cost of nearly $300,000.

The combination of the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings in Blacksburg and recent assaults near Charlottesville's Downtown Mall have given the debate over security cameras new momentum and led the police department's recommendation to be forwarded to city councilors, officials said.

But several city councilors expressed reservations, saying they fear a "Big Brother" approach to policing may infringe on the privacy rights of residents.

Councilor Kendra Hamilton said security cameras on the mall "make me uneasy," adding that she is interested in seeing the city's resources devoted to other ways to combat crime.

"Are there steps we can take to get us those results without going down the road that leads to '1984'?" Hamilton asked.

But authorities insist that cameras are cost-effective in preventing crime by serving as a visible deterrence, Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said.

In Baltimore, where Longo worked in the late 1990s, cameras in several neighborhoods resulted in a "sizable decrease in activity simply because of [their] presence."

The locations where the cameras would be placed in Charlottesville have yet to be determined. Authorities said that they would likely be put in front of City Hall, the transit center, the exterior of the pavilion and other spots along the mall, along with side and adjacent streets.

Authorities broached the idea after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but deemed the technology too expensive to implement on a large scale. Thanks to advances in wireless technology, the cameras have become more affordable.