The city needs to do something about crime downtown, city leaders agreed Monday. But Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx said one proposal may not fly.
"The camera proposal doesn't mean much for me," Amyx said at a Monday evening meeting at City Hall.
Amyx and other commissioners and city officials gathered to hear public comments surrounding a city memo that outlined four possible plans for increasing downtown security.
The memo suggested that security downtown could be revamped in several ways, including:
¢ Special licensing that would establish standards for bars and nightclubs that feature live music, including possible provisions putting business owners who violate the standards at risk of losing their license;
¢ Requiring security to work at larger nightclubs and venues;
¢ A "Pubwatch" program that would establish simple lines of communication between bar owners and the police, similar to a neighborhood watch; and
¢ Closed-circuit cameras that would be actively monitored by the police department or other operators.
But in discussions, bar owners and patrons seemed tentative when it came to the idea of downtown cameras monitoring the movements of bar patrons and others walking the streets at night.
"I've read Orwell many, many times," Kansas Licensed Beverage Assn. Director Phil Bradley said, referring to author George Orwell's concept of "Big Brother" watching over people.
Bill Staples, a Kansas University sociology professor, author and expert on the usefulness of monitored video cameras, attended the meeting to weigh in on the city's consideration of the issue.
Staples said that current research points to video cameras rarely working to deter true crime, and only acting as a way to capture disasters.
Also, Staples said, people who monitor cameras lose touch with the nuances of what happens on a beat - the kind of understandings that make police work effective.
"They don't know what the situation is they're watching," Staples told city officials.
Amyx, for one, agreed, saying that the cameras would likely only serve to catch people after an act had been committed.
Although no decision was made at the meeting, many bar owners pointed to more security and police walking the streets during late-night, high-traffic hours.
The Last Call, 729 N.H., has been at the center of controversy over downtown crime in recent months, with a spate of guns and drugs confiscated from cars outside of the nightclub and at least one recent, victimless shooting inside.
But owner Dennis Steffes told officials that if more police or security guards were walking the streets at night, those problems may not exist.
"Their presence has always been very effective," Steffes said of security guards.
Steffes added that the only reason young people commit crimes downtown is because they feel they can get away with it.
But serious violence such as the shooting that killed Topeka resident Robert Earl Williams outside of the Granada, 1020 Mass., earlier this year can be prevented if bars take some responsibility as well, Williams' widow, LaTonia Coleman, told officials. She has been a proponent for tougher security at bars, including the use of metal detectors.
"You have to provide safety for these people," she said. "I wouldn't want to see someone go through what I'm going through."
Coleman has filed a lawsuit against the Granada in connection with her husband's death, which happened when a crowd gathered outside the club after a hip-hop concert in February.
Coleman told officials that regardless of community tension over violence at hip-hop shows or clubs that feature hip-hop nights, bars in Lawrence draw people from everywhere, from all musical tastes, and they all needed to be protected equally.
Coleman also thanked Steffes for adding metal detectors to the Last Call after the shooing incident inside the club.
Now police officials and city commissioners will discuss what is the next, right step to take.
Commissioner David Schauner said that police foot patrols and late-night community policing would be a start, but regardless of what happens, the commission would likely look at all bars and clubs the same.
"I think in many ways, they all live and die together," Schauner said.