Controversial proposed camera ordinance tweaked

The penalty phase of a controversial proposed ordinance calling for required installation and maintenance of surveillance cameras at restaurants, fast food outlets, filling stations and convenience stores at Pine Bluff has been softened.

The measure’s sponsor — Alderman George Stepps — believes the changes will reduce and possibly eliminate financial concerns and opposition among potentially affected businesses.

Stepps and Aldermen Charles Boyd and Wayne Easterly met Thursday in the mayor’s conference room to determine alterations to the proposal, which is scheduled to receive its third and final reading at Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting. Unless it’s tabled again, the ordinance will face a vote.

Any opportunity for additional adjustments may come in a public safety committee meeting scheduled 90 minutes prior to the 5:30 p.m. full council session.

Boyd, Easterly and Stepps — receiving input from Assistant Police Chief Ivan Whitfield, who had already expressed his department’s support of the proposal — decided that the ordinance will specify that security cameras will be automatically required only for businesses opening Jan. 1, 2013, and thereafter. Although security camera systems are reportedly available for as little as $200, the city would allow a six-month “grace period” from a new firm’s opening date for the business to install and initiate maintenance of a camera.

“That will give the new businesses a little extra time to get things in place,” Stepps said.

Established firms — those that were operating before Jan. 1 — would be “grandfathered.” Stepps explained that those businesses would not have to add a security camera unless police were called there five or more times during a set time period on incidents that contributed to the city’s major-crime statistics. For each response to such an offense, the city would assess the business a $25 fee.

The monies would be put in reserve and then given back to the firm to be applied toward a camera system purchase once it had met the incident limit.

“That will help the established businesses,” figures Stepps. “The police department will handle it just like they do on false alarms.”

The ordinance originally called for daily fines of $300 to $1,000 on any firm that did not install and/or maintain a security camera.