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DA: More public video cameras would help solve, prosecute crime in downtown Lawrence

In this file photo from March 23, 2016, a city employee installs a temporary surveillance camera near Ninth and Massachusetts streets. Temporary cameras are sometimes installed to oversee areas where large crowds are expected, such as Final Four celebrations downtown, though those cameras are removed after events.

In this file photo from March 23, 2016, a city employee installs a temporary surveillance camera near Ninth and Massachusetts streets. Temporary cameras are sometimes installed to oversee areas where large crowds are expected, such as Final Four celebrations downtown, though those cameras are removed after events.

February 25, 2018

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When evidence in last fall’s triple homicide finally came out publicly in recent weeks, surveillance video’s role in the investigation was on display.

“If it wasn’t for security cameras owned by businesses and buildings in downtown Lawrence, this case may not have been solved,” Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said. City-owned cameras also were part of the evidence.

Especially on the heels of video’s usefulness in the high-profile Massachusetts Street murder case, Branson wants the city to add more public cameras downtown because, he says, they help solve and prosecute crimes.

The City Commission plans to discuss the topic at an upcoming study session. The commission is awaiting a report on public cameras, which commissioners ordered last month from the city's legal and police departments.

“I would certainly support some type of passive camera system located downtown where we would be able to go back and locate footage,” Branson said. “I want to encourage them to continue looking at it, and register my support.”

Some city representatives, commission candidates and community members have been talking about whether more downtown cameras are needed since the Oct. 1 shootings.

Branson said he felt comfortable speaking about the matter now that evidence had been shared in open court during the preliminary hearing for three men charged in connection with the incident. The men currently are awaiting trial.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, left, confers with Chief Assistant District Attorney David Melton during a preliminary hearing, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, for three men charged in connection with an October 2017 triple homicide on Massachusetts Street.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, left, confers with Chief Assistant District Attorney David Melton during a preliminary hearing, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, for three men charged in connection with an October 2017 triple homicide on Massachusetts Street.

Branson emphasized that he supports “passive” cameras that could be reviewed with footage preserved by law enforcement following an incident.

That’s opposed to, for example, cameras that have someone monitoring them in real-time 24/7.

Branson said many people with privacy concerns about government surveillance cameras fear that the city would watch their every move by embarking on the latter.

“That’s just simply not true,” Branson said. “Nobody has time to do that. Nobody has the resources to do that.”

Privacy concerns flared in 2012, when the former Lawrence police chief made a formal proposal to install public surveillance cameras on Massachusetts Street and secured grant money to do it.

The City Commission said it would not accept the grant or permit the cameras until a policy for their use was developed and presented.

Multiple public forums on the issue brought out debate over whether the cameras were a good idea or an unreasonable intrusion on privacy. Critics included representatives of the regional chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

That downtown camera plan eventually fizzled out.

The University of Kansas campus has had public surveillance cameras since 2005, and now has hundreds of them. Branson said people don’t seem to be bothered by the outdoor cameras there, or at other places covered by cameras, like shopping districts.

“Why should downtown Lawrence by any different?” Branson said.

Businesses all over the community — including the “vast majority” of downtown businesses — have surveillance cameras and routinely help law enforcement by providing footage when requested, Branson said.

Bank surveillance cameras help catch robbers and forgery suspects, ATM cameras help catch people using someone else’s debit card, and retail cameras help catch shoplifters, Branson said. Downtown, cameras have been used in cases from fights to hit-and-run incidents to the recent homicides, he said.

“You do have a large number of people come to our entertainment corridor in the city,” Branson said. “Because of the activities that occur downtown, we do have more reports of crime.”

In this file photo from March 23, 2016, a city employee installs a temporary surveillance camera near Ninth and Massachusetts streets. Temporary cameras are sometimes installed to oversee areas where large crowds are expected, such as Final Four celebrations downtown, though those cameras are removed after events.

In this file photo from March 23, 2016, a city employee installs a temporary surveillance camera near Ninth and Massachusetts streets. Temporary cameras are sometimes installed to oversee areas where large crowds are expected, such as Final Four celebrations downtown, though those cameras are removed after events.

The Journal-World requested information about the total number and locations of city-owned cameras downtown, but did not receive an answer from the city last week. The Lawrence Police Department puts up temporary cameras for certain big events but currently has no permanent surveillance cameras downtown, the department told the newspaper in November.

Video footage shown at the preliminary hearing in the murder case included a city traffic camera at 11th and Massachusetts streets and two views from cameras at the city’s community center nearby. Also played were views from two cameras at the Vermont Towers apartment building.

Footage shows three men police identified as the suspects parking near the crime scene about 1:10 a.m. Oct. 1. The video pictures the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets as the shootings unfold, the victims fall and bystanders scatter. More video shows the same men running back to a vehicle right after the shooting.

Defense attorneys have attacked the videos in this case, saying the figures are too dark, small and grainy to adequately show what happened and who was doing it.

Branson said videos alone may not be enough to prove a case but that they are a valuable tool to corroborate witness testimony or elucidate inconsistencies.

“Use of a video recording can allow the trier of fact — the jury — to reconcile these and see with their own eyes what occurred,” Branson said.

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This story has been modified to clarify the nature of charges in the case. One defendant is charged with three murders, and the other defendants are charged with other crimes.

Comments

Steve Jacob 1 month, 4 weeks ago

We may trust the local government, but State and Federal will have access to those videos whenever they want. And the cameras do nothing to prevent crime, even if they are helpful in prosecution.

Geoff Ermlap 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Who has access to the cameras. Who has oversight over use and selection of what videos will be used or not. Easy to create bias/discrimination by video selection. Will videos be released to public. Edited? Full view of all videos should be made available to all public or its a no go. Police always want to control body cam video and will want the same with these.

Bob Summers 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Liberal big brother is watching. Do as they say.

With the Liberal ones running about the planet, is it any wonder why the constitution of the United States was formulated?

These Liberals will just not leave one alone.

Dale Miller 1 month, 4 weeks ago

There is no doubt real time cameras can cut down the reaction time to see a crime being committed

Dale Miller 1 month, 4 weeks ago

At one time I couldn't see the potential problems this might cause. Right up until I saw federal agencies weaponized against groups of their own citizens.

Steve Jacob 1 month, 4 weeks ago

You saw what happened in Florida right? Police tracking the shooter in school on camera when he was long gone.

Dale Miller 1 month, 4 weeks ago

You're exactly right with the time delay issue. This is why I was speaking about real time cameras. I have seen both time delayed and real time cameras systems in action. Real time cameras systems have saved my bacon more than one time. Real time systems are excellent for alerting an incident as well as monitoring the incident as it's happening. It can also record it for later viewing.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 month, 4 weeks ago

These are public areas. You could go down there and video and photograph anyone you want without permission anyway, because there is no expectation of privacy there. I don't know what the big deal is. Now if they wanted to put one in your house or back yard, forget it. That is a place of privacy. Just don't commit a crime or pick your nose downtown.

Sam Crow 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Dot being a socialist you don't understand the difference between someone private recording you, and the government recording you.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 month, 4 weeks ago

It's still a public place. I would throw a fit if they wanted to put one in my house or my yard, but that's not public. You are being watched anyway when you are in a public place. There are people everywhere watching you as you walk by a restaurant, as you drive down the street. As long as it's only used when there is a crime or when there is an accident, what's the big deal. And, by the way, just to let you know, if you ever came to my house, we have security cameras, so you would be recorded. Of course, you aren't invited to my house, so if you came it would be for criminal purposes, and we would have your photo.

Richard Aronoff 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Good Lord!! This is the second time in a week that I totally agree with Dorothy.

Calvin Anders 1 month, 4 weeks ago

It may be a small step, but more cameras are an additional step toward a surveillance state. Law enforcement can track us by our cell phones. They track our movement with license plate cameras. They track our social media activity. Why do we want to give them more tools to track our every move? Isn't it clear that all of this information can be assembled?

Sam Crow 1 month, 4 weeks ago

How long will the video be kept? The cost of storing it is outrageously expensive.

For what will it be used?

Attorneys and insurance companies will want access to prove who really caused the wreck. At what cost?

What precautions will be taken to insure it isn't abused ?

The questions go on and on.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 month, 4 weeks ago

We have security cameras at our house and can access them for a long time, and it doesn't cost us that much. It's not like they are being stored on video tapes anymore.

Bob Smith 1 month, 4 weeks ago

Pretty soon there won't be a safe place anywhere outside one's home to adjust your drawers or deal with a nose-goblin.

Jake Davis 1 month, 4 weeks ago

If you are willing to adjust yourself or pick your nose while walking down Mass St in front of people, what difference does it make if you do it on camera? The difference to me is someone is more likely to watch your actions in person rather that someone reviewing it on video.

Bob Smith 1 month, 4 weeks ago

I keep those activities to places less populated than Mass. St.

Bill Turner 1 month, 4 weeks ago

It's easy to eliminate crime in a police state, and this is just one more small step in that direction. 1984 is not a work of fiction, it is a prophecy.

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