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Tighter security possibility in Auburn

Business owners have mixed views on cameras
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Local business owners have varying views on beefing up security in the city of Auburn. According to Capt. John Ruffcorn of the Auburn Police Department, new security measures are already in the works. “In the last year we have actually outfitted five patrol cars with in-car cameras,” Ruffcorn said. Ruffcorn said the cameras help the department show evidence for incidents that might happen in the field. Ruffcorn said the largest part of the cost associated with these cameras is the equipment that goes along with them. “One of our in-car cameras and the server that goes along with it, it’s about $15,000, but the camera setup is about $6,000,” he said. “The cost of the camera is about one-third of the cost, and the back-end stuff is about two-thirds of the cost.” The patrol car cameras and associated equipment were paid for with grants from the Department of Homeland Security, Ruffcorn said. “City money to purchase all of this has literally been almost nothing,” he said. The department has also been awarded a Transit Security Grant by the Department of Homeland Security to install a camera in Central Square that will be focused on the bus stop on Lincoln Way, according to Bernie Schroeder, director of the Auburn Public Works Department. The grant awarded $9,041 to the city for the camera and related equipment, Schroeder said. Schroeder said the city is now in the process of accepting bids for the equipment, and if any additional funding were necessary, the matter would go before City Council. Schroeder said the city is also hoping to install more cameras that could be used for transit safety as well as security. “It’s an excellent tool to keep graffiti and any vandalism at a minimum,” she said. “We are going to aggressively pursue (more grants), but right now the state isn’t really full of money.” Ruffcorn said the department wants the camera in Central Square to be able to pan, tilt and zoom, so as to catch a wider area. Ruffcorn said another piece of technology on the department’s wish list are Automatic License Plate Readers. When attached to an officer’s car, the devices can read up to 100,000 license plates a minute to search for stolen cars. The department is also hoping to upgrade its records management and dispatch unit, as well as the computers in patrol cars, Ruffcorn said. Before any security-specific cameras would be installed, the police department would ask for community opinions, Ruffcorn said. “People have some concerns and we want to listen to their concerns before we implement anything,” he said. Ruffcorn said although new security technology is a goal, budget constraints and the size of the department don’t currently allow for those advances. “Right now I guess we are labor challenged as well as monetary challenged,” he said. “It’s literally just one technology program at a time.” Lisa Swisley, who owns Tango Frozen Yogurt, and recently experienced a break-in at the business, said she would be in favor of cameras. “After what happened to me, my first thoughts were, ‘I wonder if there are any cameras out there that could have caught anybody?’” Swisley said. “That would have been nice to have that as backup, and also just to feel more safe out there.” Gus Everhart, who owns Rutavalla Health and Wellness on Agnes Street, said he would support cameras used for some purposes, because he is concerned certain uses would waste funds. “If they are geared toward security I would say, ‘Not a problem,’ but if they are geared toward traffic enforcement I say, ‘No way,’” Everhart said. Billy Prior of Auburn Outdoor Sports said he doesn’t want future security cameras to point at storefronts because that might deter customers from visiting certain businesses, but he does think cameras can prevent crime. “Security cameras are a good deterrent, period,” Prior said. “We have them and we are getting ready to put them on the outside of the building.” Ruffcorn said residents don’t need to worry about cameras near their homes, because any future surveillance would be centered on the business district. “I’m concerned just like everybody else is about big brother, but we are not talking about neighborhoods,” he said. “We are talking about business areas.” Ben Asgharzadeh, who owns The Golden Swann, said he would help the police department with money to get cameras installed. “I’d like to have them all over the town, that way people won’t (cause trouble),” Asgharzadeh said. “Golden Swann could help to put more cameras out, but if everybody helped each other, maybe we could put more cameras out and maybe people would think twice about it when they (think about theft or vandalism).” Asgharzadeh said he currently pays for the parts to fix the clocktower in Downtown Auburn. When vandals force the hands to move, it causes gears to break, and each gearbox costs $2,500. Asgharzadeh said he thinks cameras would be extremely helpful in preventing the vandalism. Linda Robinson, president of the Old Town Business Association, said she couldn’t think of a reason to support cameras in Old Town. “We haven’t really talked about security cameras,” Robinson said. “I don’t know that any of us would feel comfortable with security cameras. I don’t know that there would be a need for them.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com