Alderman Bill Brumett, left, listens as Alderman George Stepps explains his proposed ordinance that would require video cameras in local businesses to a representative for the Grider Field Restaurant, Stanley Harper, during a public hearing on the matter Monday in the Pine Bluff City Council chambers. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
An ordinance calling for the requirement of installation and maintenance of surveillance cameras at fast food restaurants. gas stations and convenience stores received its second reading at Monday night’s Pine Bluff City Council meeting, but not before public input was received and city officials offered some guidance on the legislation.
The measure wound up being directed for additional study by the council’s public safety and development and planning committees, which will dissect it in a joint meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the mayor’s conference room. Sponsor George Stepps said a number of residents have told him that the ordinance is “one of the council’s best proposals in years,” but he agrees that it needs “tweaking” to make certain that it’s not “a burden to taxpayers.”
The bill’s discussion dominated an afternoon public safety committee meeting and then highlighted a busy council session, which included distribution of a preliminary 2013 city budget plan and presentations on assorted development plans.
Assistant Chief of Police Ivan Whitfield told the public safety panel he wants to be on record as supporting the proposed requirement of surveillance cameras.
“Please,” said Whitfield, “if you can work it out, do it. It would help the police.”
The ordinance, in its current form, calls for a daily fine of between $300 and $1,000 for an owner, operator, manager or clerk at any firm found to be out of compliance with expressed requirements. Stepps said he’s heard from “many” who think the fine amount is excessive and that he wouldn’t be opposed to “working that out.”
“As I said,” he repeated, “this isn’t supposed to be a money-making ordinance. It’s meant to help improve public safety.”
Stepps believes that if enacted, it will enhance security for employees and customers of businesses and police officers themselves.
Stepps said the need for such legislation has been “made even stronger” in the wake of two recent convenience store armed robberies, in which both clerks were shot. One was seriously wounded with the incident being caught on camera and the other was killed in a store where security cameras were not working. Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones credited the media’s posting of video from the most recent incident for the arrest of a suspect less than 24 hours later. No charges have been filed in the fatal shooting.
Stepps said he recently met with police, fire and inspection and zoning department officials in a brainstorming session to help determine particulars on enforcing a requirement for camera installation and maintenance. The group recommended that inspection and zoning employees should be in charge of an initial check while fire department personnel could then conduct a maintenance review during its annual safety inspection at each site. Davis-Jones agreed that fines for violators should be reduced with police issuing two separate warnings and then allowing up to 90 days for corrections.
Alderman Wayne Easterly said he thought it would be illegal for the city to make camera requirements for already-established businesses. Alderman Bill Brumett said he’s opposed to government “forcing anything” on a merchant, but said he understands that businesses can profit from providing safety to their customers.
During the public safety committee meeting, Rev. Jesse Turner said Stepps’ measure, if adopted, might be “unfair” to business owners who can’t afford cameras, which one attendee said are available for $130 and up. Turner suggested that if the city is going to demand the cameras, the city perhaps should be responsible for their purchase and maintenance.
“I’ve heard you many times complain about crime and how police weren’t doing their job,” replied Stepps. “Business owners should be concerned about public safety as well. I wish you could come here and be supportive of us just one time.
“I wish you could hear what I’ve heard,” Stepps continued. “This is about public safety and the safety of employees, including many young women working alone in such settings at night. They deserve to be safe, and so do customers.”
A convenience store chain loss prevention officer said store security is simply “part of the cost of doing business.”
Alderwoman Irene Holcomb drew laughter when she quipped that if the measure is approved, it wouldn’t mean much in terms of revenue if fines weren’t collected any better than delinquent hamburger tax accounts.
The council approved five ordinances and four resolutions.
• Amended the basis for calculating the city’s privilege and occupation tax for adult daycare and childcare centers from capacity to average attendance, as figured by the state Department of Human Services.
• Rezone 1115 Commerce Road to neighborhood business.
• Gave the city’s consent to a change of control of the cable television franchise.
• Waived competitive bidding and authorized the mayor to contract Reynolds Construction Company of White Hall for improvements of the roof of The Saenger Theatre.
• Waived competitive bidding and authorized the mayor to contract Robbins Engineering PLCC of Little Rock for a structural assessment of The Saenger.
• Directed that the finance department include in the 2013 annual budget $100,000 for funding of youth summer employment programs.
• Approved an agreement with Waste Management for a waiver of the annual residential garbage rate adjustment provided for in the city’s franchise.
• Provided for placement of costs of correcting certain nuisances on tax books as delinquent taxes and collection as such.
• Tentatively endorsed the economic and community development department’s 2013 consolidated plan with rules and regulations as adopted with amendments by the federal Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.