Whether it’s for massive Final Four celebrations or late-night Massachusetts Street scuffles, local law enforcement leaders are seeking to add police-controlled surveillance cameras in downtown Lawrence.
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will be asked to allow the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to use $46,800 in grant money to purchase up to two surveillance cameras and necessary hardware to install in downtown.
“It is probably past time that we had something like this,” said Tarik Khatib, Lawrence police chief.
Khatib said the department installed one camera at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets, just prior to the spring’s Final Four celebrations. It remains in place. The department also installed three temporary cameras to help monitor that celebration.
“Video systems, when used correctly, are a great public safety enhancement,” Khatib said. “They really proved themselves with the Final Four. They’d be great for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and if we had a missing child case downtown they could be really beneficial.”
But the application for the grant money, which is coming from a U.S. Justice Department grant, said the cameras also would be used to capture evidence of criminal activity.
Khatib said he eventually would like to have a system where the cameras would record and store footage for up to 48 hours, giving officers the opportunity to access the footage as part of investigations. But he said he was uncertain the initial grant funding would provide enough money to buy all the necessary computer storage to implement such a system.
Khatib said the use of security cameras by law enforcement is becoming more common. He said Overland Park has cameras at 30 percent of the city’s intersections, at the Oak Park Mall and at schools. Locally, Kansas University has a host of campus cameras that are monitored by part-time employees, Khatib said.
“Often times, the camera is the first one on the scene, so to speak,” Khatib said. “The people monitoring the camera can see the scene and relay some really useful information to the responding officers.”
The city currently has traffic cameras at about a dozen intersections across the city.
Khatib said he would like for the Police Department to more readily have access to that footage, which currently is not being recorded. But Khatib said this latest grant won’t include funds to help with those improvements.
Khatib also said he expects to hear some concerns from the public about whether the cameras will be an intrusion on people’s privacy.
“What I want people to know is that the reason we want to do this is because there is a very real public safety reason to do this,” said Khatib, who said video footage captured by private downtown security camera had helped solve at least one downtown shooting case in recent years.
Khatib said he didn’t have a firm timeline for when the cameras would be installed, but he hopes the system will be in place within a year.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.