Dec. 30--ST. CHARLES --Taking the lead from the University City Loop and other areas, St. Charles now has seven security cameras focused on the city's Main Street historic area, with more planned.
The cameras, which began going up in February, are among the latest tactics in the city's ongoing effort to deal with rowdyism and vandalism tied to some customers who flock to the string of bars along the street's north end.
City officials say it's too soon to say what effect the cameras are having. However, they and business owners who support the cameras say they can only help. Officials in other St. Louis area cities using the cameras say they have been a deterrent.
In St. Charles, the units aren't routinely monitored, but police can consult the tapes to investigate incidents after the fact.
For example, police used video footage as evidence in the theft on Dec. 1 of a purse from a car parked in front of a North Main eating and drinking spot. A Wentzville man, 30, was charged with felony stealing in the case. That's the only instance in which camera footage has helped lead to an arrest, city officials said.
"If you have cameras, you at least have a chance of identifying individuals or groups of people" responsible, Bob Schuette, owner of the First Capitol Trading Post gift store, said.
"If you can't identify them you have no hope."
Deterrence also is a goal.
The hope is that as more people become aware of the cameras, some of the activity that unnerves businesses and residents will dissipate.
"Once word gets out, people know they're being watched," said Marc Rousseau, a member of a special business district board in the area. He owns R.T. Weiler's, a bar-restaurant.
The first three cameras were installed in February outside the city's tourism bureau on South Main, a stretch that emphasizes shopping and dining in quaint restored buildings. One is at the back of the building -- aimed at parking lots.
Then, in October, four more (disguised as birdhouses for aesthetic reasons) were installed at a spot on North Main, two of them monitoring a nearby alley and walkway.
David Leezer, the city's tourism and economic development director, said more Main Street cameras would probably be added next year but not until spring at the earliest. He said the timing would depend partly on when funding was available. The locations have yet to be selected.
Leezer said some Main Street business owners pushed for the cameras during their regular quarterly meetings with Mayor Sally Faith.
Other Main Street tactics adopted by police include more late-night walking patrols and daylight bike patrols during warmer months. The city also installed a taxi stand to try to curb drunken driving, and police have begun using the tourism bureau as a substation.
Leezer said the city had provided about $8,000 of the approximate $12,000 cost of the cameras, with the remainder from the special business district. The district is funded by a tax on Main Street businesses.
The city had taken previous steps over the past decade to control the Main Street problems, which also have included fighting, underage drinking, noise, public urination and driving while intoxicated.
For example, the City Council passed in 2008 tougher rules for bars, including some aimed at binge drinking.
Incidents tend to happen along the street's north end, but businesses and residents on the more shopping-oriented south side say they experience some of the problems as bar patrons head to their vehicles.
Some business owners say that the cameras aren't a cure-all and that the city should never have allowed so many bars in the area in the first place.
'ONLY A BAND AID'
"The cameras are only a Band-Aid on the problem," said Holly Haddox, president of the South Main Preservation Society and owner of a wedding venue. However, she agreed that they were necessary.
Gene Wood, who sells furniture and other items at his Cobblestone Cottage, said the city's efforts treated the symptoms of the problem, not the cause. "They've just created a monster and now the cameras are watching it," he said. "They just let the bar business get out of control."