City Council votes to send camera measure to committee for revision


The Pine Bluff City Council came closer to universal support of an ordinance sponsored by Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps to require security cameras at certain areas businesses at the measure’s third and final reading Monday night.

It was agreed that the proposal would be returned to the public safety committee to be completely reconfigured to take into account the many amendments requested by council members and that the proposed ordinance would be re-introduced at the Dec. 3 City Council meeting.

“I believe these amendments are good and this will be a good thing for the city,” Stepps said. “It was never my intent to put a burden on anyone. We’re not trying to burden taxpayers or raise money for the city. All we want to do with this measure is to help combat crime and protect store employees, the public and property owners.”

Stepps called on PBPD Assistant Chief of Police Ivan Whitfield to update the Council on planned changes to the potential penalties that could be assessed against non-compliant shop owners.

“This is a vital, important piece of legislation,” Whitfield said. “It is one of the most important that I have seen in my 30 years with the PBPD. What we are proposing is that new businesses be required to install security cameras before they open and that we use the same system for compelling compliance on security cameras at existing businesses that we use to cut down on false alarm calls. If a business receives five major calls including robbery, rape or murder, in one calendar year and they do not have a security camera installed, after the fifth call we will send out a compliance letter and give them six months to come into compliance.”

Whitfield said that the potential fines would also be modeled on those levied for false alarms.

“We will assess non-complying businesses a fine of $25 or $50,” Whitfield said. “We are exploring if it is possible and legal to put any fines that are collected into a pool to help businesses purchase security cameras if they cannot afford to on their own. It is that important.”

“A camera will allow us to tell if you’re black or white; if you’re light-skinned or dark-skinned; if you’re heavy or thin; and what you are wearing,” Whitfield said. “It is a vital tool to help us combat crime.”

Whitfield said that the killing of a store clerk at the Big Red convenience store on East Sixth Avenue in October has resulted in no arrests because while the store had five cameras, none of them were functioning.

“Several days later there was a shooting at a gas station on Highway 79 and they had a camera,” Whitfield said. “We were able to put out a photograph of the suspect and the next day an off-duty officer recognized a man walking by as the one from the photo and arrested him in connection with that shooting. We received a gun from that arrest that was the same caliber as the one used in the killing of the clerk at the Big Red. There is a chance that this is the same gun and we can link the two cases.”

Ward 3 Alderman Glenn Brown expressed a willingness to support the measure if further changes were made to it.

“We need to dramatically lessen the penalty amounts,” Brown said. “I also want to see some sort of probationary period of one or one and a half years for new businesses to come into compliance. I know some people are going to get after me because I said I wouldn’t support it but I’ll support it if you do those things.”

Ward 2 Alderman Wayne Easterly had similar concerns.

“Security systems I’m sure have a wide range of costs,” Easterly said. “The proposal says that the suspect and the clerk must be identifiable and you would need two cameras for that. I have a problem with the federal government sending down unfunded mandates that force us to come up with the money and this would be the same thing for our businesses.”

In other business the Council heard an update from Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department District 2 Engineer David Henning on the $4.5 million project to widen University Avenue from Pullen Street to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“The area around the 7700 block of University Drive has been a concern of the city for some time,” Henning said of the area of roadway that curves back and forth over a large ditch.”This is the area where a young man was involved in a fatal accident where his car ran off the road and into the ravine.”

“The project will involve the lessening of the degree of the curves,” Henning said. “Plans are to extend three existing pipe culverts twenty feet and to shorten the slopes of the ravine.”

Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus, Jr. said that $68,000 generated by the drainage aspect of the city bond project will be used to fill in the ravine and that a green space is planned for the area adjacent to University Drive.

Henning said that the project is expected to begin in early 2013 and that Dion Construction of Warren will be the general contractor.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance to close a portion of Clark Drive; and an ordinance providing for the reimbursement of police officers and firemen for the expense of repair or replacing uniforms and turn-outs damaged or destroyed in the line of duty.

The council unanimously approved an amended resolution declaring certain houses, buildings and/or structures as nuisances and ordering their abatement.

The council unanimously approved a measure to install No Parking signs along Smart Street between Lane and Stewart Gates Road because it is a one lane street and people have been parking on it and preventing residents from reaching or leaving their homes.

The council unanimously approved budget adjustments of $15,509 for 720 hours of accumulated sick leave by a retiring employee of the Pine Bluff Police Department; $20,101 for the repair and maintenance of PBPD automobiles; and $2,500 for electric expenses for the Maintenance Department.