News and notes from around town:
• Motorists over the last few days have noticed some new cameras that have been installed on the traffic lights at the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
What you’re noticing is Lawrence’s newest crime-fighting tool.
Sgt. Matt Sarna, a spokesman with the Lawrence Police Department, confirmed to me that the cameras are designed to capture the license plate numbers of vehicles traveling through the intersection. The cameras are connected to a system that allows police officers to enter the plate number of a suspect’s vehicle, for example, into a computer system. The camera then keeps an eye out for the license plate and sends an immediate notification to the police department once it is spotted.
The police department received a grant for the cameras and the system. The cameras at Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa are the first, but probably not the last to be installed in the city. Sarna said department leaders believe the system has good potential to help in situations where a crime has been committed and officers are searching the city for a suspect’s vehicle.
I’m still awaiting from the department some further details about the program and the grant. I’ll pass them along when I get them.
One thing the cameras will not be used for is to ticket motorists who run red lights. Such systems are used in other states, but the city’s traffic engineer told me that red light cameras are not legal in Kansas. The state legislature would have to pass a new law that would allow people to be ticketed in such a manner.
• The number of homeless people in Lawrence and Douglas County has increased over the last two years, according to at least one official count. The number of homeless people grew to 226 — including 69 children — up from 104 in 2009. As part of a requirement for federal funding, city and county leaders conduct a “point-in-time” homeless count in January of odd-numbered years. This year the count took place on Jan. 26. Here are some other details on the findings, according to a report released by the city today:
- 33 adults and three families met the definition of being chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for one year or more, or have had at least four instances of homelessness in the past three years and have disabling condition.
- The number of females who are homeless is increasing. In 2009, 25 percent of the homeless in Lawrence were female. In 2011 that number grew to 44 percent.
- 30 percent of the homeless counted in the survey were found to have a severe mental illness.
- 23 percent of the homeless said they had a physical disability or illness; 22 percent said they suffered from chronic drug abuse; 21 percent from chronic alcohol abuse; and 4 percent from a developmental disability.
- 111 of the homeless were single with no children; 33 were single with children;
The count includes only people who are “literally homeless,” which is different than some other homeless counts. Some counts include people who are “doubling up” by sleeping on a friend’s couch or some other similar situation. This count only includes people who are staying in an emergency shelter, transitional housing or are sleeping in cars, under bridges or other places not meant for human habitation.
• Expect to see some cement trucks in Downtown Lawrence in the near future. The city has chosen the downtown area as the part of the city that will get major curb repairs this summer. The city is taking bids for curb repair work in an area bounded by Sixth Street to North Park Street and New Hampshire Street to Vermont Street.
The city, however, is excluding Vermont Street from Seventh to Eighth Streets because there’s a concern that construction work on the expansion of the Lawrence Public Library could damage any new curbs installed this summer.
The concrete project also will do some deep patching of particular problem spots on streets and will do some minor sidewalk repair work in the area.