Lack of security cameras in new parking platforms raises concerns

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 31, 2015

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ROCHESTER — The $12 million parking platforms being built in downtown Rochester will not have surveillance cameras when they open later this year, and some Rochester residents and business owners aren’t happy about that.

Rochester Mayor Jeffrey Cuthbertson said the City Council has debated the issue twice, and each time, has opted to leave surveillance cameras out of the equation.

“This has been discussed and studied for about six months to arrive at a position that says we don’t believe they are necessary, or appropriate, at this time,” Cuthbertson explained.

Cuthbertson said council thoroughly debated the issue and elected not to have the cameras installed for a number of reasons — including the city’s low crime rate and its active and efficient police department. Other factors that played into the decision, he said, is that there is no evidence of need for the cameras since the platforms have not yet opened, and there is no proof that security cameras — which, he said, would cost the city over $100,000 — actually reduce crime.

“The last point was, is local government — in a non-custodial environment, outside of a jail — in the habit of monitoring the public. Putting all of those reasons together. And again, we are a deliberative body and we could reconsider any of those issues again. That’s the framework for the decision that has been taken to date,” he said.

Still, several people are uneasy with the decision — including Main Street Deli owner Linda Lucaj, who said she is “very displeased” and “upset” by the action.

Lucaj, and a host of others, recently united to express their concerns to council during the March 23 meeting.

Lucaj recently polled her customers on the topic of surveillance cameras via a chalkboard located in her business. She said more than 150 customers voiced their support for the installation of cameras in the city’s parking platforms, including about 55 on an informal petition.

“There was a lot of feedback and a lot of disappointed comments. Most everyone didn’t even know that we weren’t having cameras in the decks and didn’t know that it had already come up for voting,” she said.

Lucaj requested that the council reconsider the issue, which she believes is a matter of public safety. She supports the city adding surveillance cameras to both platforms before they open to the public, because of their low visibility and enclosure.

“I’m not in favor of cameras on public streets or open public areas; I am in favor of surveillance cameras in enclosed areas with very low visibility,” Lucaj said. “We do have a low crime rate in Rochester, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to crime. I believe that we have this low crime rate and this safe city because we don’t have enclosed areas where crime-focused people could capitalize on the situation.”

Mary Kaverly, who owns the vacant space at 420 S. Main St., said the topic is also of interest to the many prospective tenants she has been interviewing.

“They all ask if there will be security cameras,” she said. “ … In other words, this is a concern to the people I am talking to who want to come into this town and bring their money and do business.”

“We don’t become less safe by putting them in,” Rochester resident Joe Carney added.

Rochester resident Stan Surratt urged the council to create a special committee, led by Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm, to develop a security plan for the platforms before they open to the public. He suggested that the plan — which could, or could not, include security cameras — address the risks associated with platform use, as well as what could be done to mitigate those risks. He asked that it be reviewed and updated regularly in an open forum.

In response, Cuthbertson asked administration to direct Schettenhelm — who is in favor of installing surveillance cameras in the city’s platforms — to present council with some input on what police has already put together regarding a security plan, and perhaps suggest a timeline for something more formal to be presented to council to be reviewed at an upcoming public meeting.

The city kicked off construction on the east parking deck — at University and Fourth, behind the Main Street Plaza — in January, and officials expect work to wrap up in June. The city closed the west lot — behind Mr. B’s — for construction March 2, and officials said the work should be complete by November. The platforms will add a total of over 550 parking spaces in high-demand areas in downtown Rochester. Parking in the new platforms will be free for the first two hours, with a $1-an-hour charge after — payable by cash or credit card at automated control points at entrances and exits.

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