FOCUS ON SAFETY Revised camera ordinance gains approval

Fast food restaurants, filling stations and convenience and package stores that begin operating after Jan. 1 will be required to install and maintain one or more surveillance cameras within six months, the Pine Bluff City Council directed Monday night.

The council gave unanimous approval to Alderman George Stepps’ ordinance, the first of its type within the state. The measure had been revised after public and council discussions, and its passage brought compliments to Stepps, who passed the gratitude on to those who had offered input and support.

Failure to comply with the law will be a misdemeanor offense. It will be equally unlawful for a business to fail to install and maintain a camera, or for a manager or clerk on duty to “intentionally terminate or interfere with” a camera’s operation.

Anyone found guilty of disobeying the measure will face a fine of $25 for each violation. The ordinance states that “a separate and discrete violation occurs each day that the individual operates an establishment that is out of compliance.”

Fines may be treated as civil penalties and paid directly to the city collector, who will deposit the monies into an account to be utilized by the police department exclusively as reward funds for combating crime, actions that could include the purchase of a security camera system. Repeat offenders may be prosecuted and face stiffer penalties.

Businesses operating before Jan. 1, 2013, won’t be automatically included in the requirement, although they’re “encouraged” by the council to install and maintain cameras in the effort to enhance safety of business employees and customers and aid police in their investigation of crimes committed at the locations.

Compliance with the ordinance shall become mandatory, however, if a firm makes five or more calls for police assistance on criminal activity included in the department’s yearly crime statistics.

The police chief will give written notices to businesses exceeding the call limit, and the firms will be given six months from the date of a notification to install and begin maintenance of a security camera system.

All businesses functioning under the ordinance will also be required to “prominently” post signage stating, “These premises protected by surveillance cameras.”

The fire department will determine if an establishment’s video surveillance equipment is working properly as part of the department’s annual site inspection. However, random checks will also be made.

Whenever a system is found be to be in violation, fire department personnel will notify the police department within 10 business days. Police personnel will conduct an inspection and issue a citation if the violation is confirmed.

The council also unanimously approved a 2013 city budget package totaling $41.565 million. No salary increases were included. The plan represents increases of $299,000 and .007-percent over the 2012 budget of $41.266 million.

Also receiving unanimous endorsement was the selection of a site between East 11th and 12 Avenues along Tennessee Street as the location for the city’s proposed multipurpose center, which is being funded through a bond issue resulting from the 2011 voter-approved “Penny for Progress” sales tax.

The council also took action on nearly 30 other items. Additional details will be published in Wednesday’s edition.