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Mayor Coleman Proposes Surveillance Cameras in Columbus Public Spaces

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman wants the city to explore the use of surveillance cameras as a means of reducing crime. The proposal might be as controversial as red-light cameras at intersections, but people living on the Near East Side seem to favor the idea.

Two little girls play a game called Slide on the half-bare lawn of a house in the 500 block of Kelton Ave. just north of I-70. They seem oblivious to what's going on a few houses away. There's a swarm of police officers and the street is cordoned off, blocked by a police cruiser with flashing lights. Adults sit on the steps half-watching the scene unfold. It's a drama they've seen too many times before.

"Yeah, this neighborhood ain't what it used to be that's for sure," says longtime resident Barbara Dillard. "I can't even sit on my front porch and be at peace anymore."

Dillard says school is not even out for the summer and already gang activity is on the increase. She says it's worse at night in a neighborhood whose informal name sounds more like a prison.

"It used to be Kelton Colt Court when I moved here 37 years ago. But now it's 'K-Block,' as you can see on the walls, the garfitti," Dillard says. "That's what the youngsters call it: Kelton Block or The Hood. That's what they call it."

Mayor Coleman says he wants to help people living in Columbus neighborhoods with high crime rates. He says the city should study the feasibility of surveillance cameras. Coleman says he's forming a committee to investigate their potential crime fighting effectiveness.

"I want to make sure that we use it properly," Coleman says, "that we use it in a way that deters crime, protects our seniors and our children. We use it in a way as a tool to put the bad criminals behind bars, to deter guns and drugs and violence."

In addition to the city's red-light cameras, there are also three motion activated cameras that recording illegal dumping and graffiti painting. This one in an alley near Mooberry and Champion gives an audible warning.

"Stop! It is illegal to spray graffiti. Your picture has been taken. If you are spraying graffiti the pictures will be used to prosecute you."

In a memo Coleman touts the decrease in crime rates in cities already using surveillance cameras including San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. He's says cameras that have been installed by business owners in Columbus have helped solve crimes.

"The security camera on the West Side that captured the image of four teens who committed a homicide against an individual who was just walking by, coming out of Blueberry Hill Bar. And but for those cameras, those criminals would still be walking the streets of Columbus today," Coleman says.

The Ohio ACLU is opposed to the mayor's plan. Communications director Mike Brickner says surveillance cameras might sound good but he says governments have a way of misusing information.

"Whenever we allow the government into part of our private lives it's really only a matter of time until the government does something with it that it wasn't intended to be used for," Brickner says. "You can see that with other types of surveillance in our society with warrantless wiretapping and people looking over internet records and things like that."

Mayor Coleman says he's sensitive to privacy concerns. But a random sampling on the Near East Side found people who said they want to see the cameras installed.

Wayne Lafaber says he supports the mayor's plan 100 percent. He has one of the anti-grafitti cameras directly behind his house.

"Oh, I think it's great, Lafaber says. "I had the flower bed on the Mooberry side and the whole front of our house was all landscaped. And people stole everything. So I wish the camera pointed this way."

A few streets over, in 'K-Block,' Barbara Dillard says she gives the mayor's plan 10 votes.

"Well I think they'd be a help if they [vandals] think they were being caught on camera. That would maybe persuade them to go somewhere else with their activities."

Meanwhile, a woman next door watches little girls continue to play. The woman says she played Slide when she was growing up. Isn't it funny, she says, how history repeats itself.