Where the cameras could go
Khatib believed that the cameras would likely be installed at intersections along Mass. Street. There were no camera specifications discussed, but he did say that they would not use facial recognition technology and would not have any sort of tracking software installed. Khatib hoped the cameras would deter crime, allow the police department to monitor parades and celebrations, and provide useful information when crimes are committed.
Surveillance cameras could be coming downtown, and the public will likely have input into how the cameras are used.
Forty-five people gathered Tuesday night at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St., to discuss and gain information about the possibility of the Lawrence Police Department installing two to three surveillance cameras in downtown Lawrence.
Earlier this year, the city of Lawrence accepted a $46,800 grant to purchase surveillance cameras. But the city detailed that Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib, who applied for the grant, must provide a detailed policy of camera use before the cameras would be installed.
The forum, presented by the American Civil Liberties Union, had Khatib, as well as Kansas University sociology professor Bill Staples, on hand to answer questions and provide their points of view on the cameras.
Khatib cited the high crime rates in downtown Lawrence as a reason to install the cameras. The downtown area, designated as the area between Vermont and N.H. streets from Sixth to 13th streets, has averaged about 1,200 crimes annually in recent years, adding up to about 8 percent of all crimes committed in Lawrence. In comparison, the area with the next highest crime rate, the Oread neighborhood, accounts for about 4.3 percent of Lawrence crimes committed annually.
“I’ve tried a lot of traditional methods,” Khatib said during the meeting. “I want to try some cameras and see if that helps.”
But Staples worried that putting up cameras would provide a cooling effect, or make people less likely to go downtown, what he referred to as the city’s “town square.” He also believed they would be ineffective at preventing crime.
“The video camera doesn’t protect you. It can’t do anything but alert authorities.”
Khatib admitted that the cameras could have a cooling effect on traffic downtown but added that crime also has the same sort of effect.
KU professor Allan Hanson, who was in attendance, said that he was concerned the cameras could be used to document demonstrators not doing anything wrong.
“This has to be a policy matter set by the City Commission and other elected officials,” he said.
Hanson and many of the others at the meeting who asked for more public input are likely to get their way. Khatib said he would likely submit a draft of the camera policy to the public or those interested. A public forum could then be held to discuss and provide changes to the draft before it was submitted to the City Commission for approval. There was no date set for when the draft will be finished or the forums will be held, but Khatib said he was in no hurry to get the cameras installed.