Cameras would be watching under commissioner's new plan to curb crime

Mercer University police monitor security cameras like this located throughout the Mercer Village area.
Mercer University police monitor security cameras like this located throughout the Mercer Village area. sdunlap@macon.com

One Macon-Bibb County official thinks he knows a way to curtail some of the county's most frequent crimes.

Putting security cameras on utility poles in strategic places could help capture key evidence that Bibb County sheriff's investigators could use to capture the culprits, County Commissioner Virgil Watkins said.

And that idea has piqued the interest of Sheriff David Davis, who says the cameras might not only help solve crimes but also prevent them.

To pay for the video cameras, Watkins wants to raise the hotel-motel tax by an extra penny on the dollar. He's asking the county's legislative delegation to back the tax increase from 7 to 8 percent, with the revenue being split among tourism-related efforts, including festivals, and a community resource center.

"We don't have the ability to be proactive against crime 24/7, but if you were able to call and say, 'My car was broken into on Poplar Street between 2 and 3, the (sheriff's office) could review the footage of a car being broken into and hopefully" catch the culprit, Watkins said.

He said 1 percent of the hotel-motel tax would have generated about $460,000 in the last year. He's proposing using about $195,000 of that revenue for the cameras and another $126,000 for various events and festivals.

Another $84,400 would go to the Little Richard community resource center inside the star's refurbished childhood home.

Watkins' hotel-motel tax resolution is scheduled for discussion at Tuesday's County Commission meeting. As an alternative, Mayor Robert Reichert has mentioned using sales tax funds earmarked for blight as a way to pay for the camera system.

The best financial option would be for the county to lease the cameras from Georgia Power as part of its SiteView program, Watkins said. A Georgia Power representative said it typically costs $150 to $200 monthly to lease each camera, depending on the quality of the equipment and how long the footage would be stored.

Other cities

The feed could be accessed by the sheriff's office, which would determine the blocks and neighborhoods where the cameras are most needed.

Davis said the cameras would not only be useful in some of the higher crime areas, but also helpful in places where large crowds typicall gather.

"I'm really intrigued by the concept," the sheriff said. "I’ve long hoped we could get something like this in different parts of the community like downtown, or some of the higher crime areas."

"This is as much as an everyday crime prevention and crime deterrent (tool) as it is homeland security," he said. "If we had a catastrophic criminal incident, say an active shooter incident, this would be an invaluable tool to have."

During a recent meeting with the County Commission, Thomas Byrd, with Georgia Power, said local businesses could also become part of the Georgia Power program.

Watkins said one reason the plan appeals to him is the success that cameras have had in parts of Baltimore and Detroit.

In 2016, the city of Detroit partnered with businesses where high-definition outdoor cameras were able to be monitored by police officers, as part of the Project Green Light initiative.

More than 250 restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses pay a monthly fee for the program. Crime adjacent to the businesses has been reduced by 23 percent since the program started two years ago, CBS Detroit reported.