Public Safety

Cedar Rapids plans security cameras for Greene Square, Redmond Park and downtown

Also will use money from traffic camera fines for other security measures

Greene Square as seen from the roof of the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Greene Square as seen from the roof of the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Authorities plan to install security cameras in Greene Square, Redmond Park and downtown as part of a “proactive policing” effort, Cedar Rapids police Chief Wayne Jerman told the City Council on Tuesday.

Installing cameras was a recommendation from a working group studying an escalation of incidents requiring police in Greene Square, including a fatal assault earlier this month, but Jerman said the cameras had been under consideration for years.

“They are fantastic for investigative purposes,” Jerman said. The locations were picked because they get among the heaviest volume of foot traffic in the city, he said.

In addition to the cameras, police plan to cover half the cost of a new school resource officer at Metro High School — the rest picked up by the school district — and to obtain portable barricades and removable bollards — devices to deter a vehicle from driving into a crowd during a large event, Jerman said.

Money for the new initiatives comes from unbudgeted revenue from collections of unpaid automated traffic camera tickets. In December, Cedar Rapids announced plans to go after some 221,000 unpaid tickets worth $17 million using the state’s offset program, which withholds state tax returns and other assets to satisfy the unpaid debt.

The initiative has generated $1.6 million for the city, which will be used for the “proactive” efforts, Jerman said.

The offset program and collection effort have beat expectations, prompting the council Tuesday to amend its contract with Municipal Collections of America, a company that has managed the collections. The amendment increases the cap on the three-year contract, which runs through 2020, from $500,000 to $2 million.

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The collection effort so far has recouped money from 35,887 unpaid citations worth $3.2 million, including $1.6 million for the city, $800,000 for camera vendor GATSO USA, $656,000 for Municipal Collections and $106,000 for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which administers the offset program.

Council members applauded plans to add cameras to the locations.

“I appreciate your aggressiveness with moving forward with cameras in Greene Square and Redmond Park,” said council member Dale Todd, who was part of the working group.

Jerman said the camera programs will be a work in progress, particularly with how to store data and for how long. Details of how many cameras and where exactly they will be placed also will be determined as staff investigate different vendors and products. He said it could be anywhere from two to several months before the cameras are installed.

Footage primarily would be used for investigative purposes after the fact, although police could monitor the live camera feeds.

“We want people to feel safe, and we feel the cameras will enhance that feeling,” Jerman said.

On the sweltering Tuesday afternoon, Greene Square saw the typical diverse mix of park users from parents with young kids using the splash pad to teens and young adults on benches and others at picnic tables.

Laura Koll, 32, of Hiawatha, had heard about recent incidents in the park but felt safe bringing three young children to play. She acknowledged some of the activity had her on alert, but she said she appreciates having a park with a mix of people available to bring her children.

Some such as Gene Schmickle, 40, of Cedar Rapids, welcomed the cameras but questioned how much impact they will have.

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“If people are getting hurt down here, it can’t hurt to have cameras,” Schmickle said. “But I don’t know if it will stop anyone.”

Kylynne Robinson-Kruse, 36, of Cedar Rapids, uses Greene Square a few times per month with her kids for Pokemon Go. She pointed out cameras on buildings surrounding the park, such as the Cedar Rapids Public Library and The Gazette building.

“I am not sure having more cameras is the solution,” she said, noting she generally feels safe at the park during the day but less so at night.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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