The city plans to install surveillance cameras in Glenwood South, giving police a high-tech tool to monitor crowds in the popular nightlife district.
The tactic raised privacy concerns for City Councilman Thomas Crowder, who cast the lone vote against pursuing a $94,000 law enforcement grant to help pay for the equipment.
Crowder questioned how the footage would be used and who would have access to it.
“It seems like we’re getting a little bit Big Brother on this request,” he said.
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Raleigh police say the cameras will allow officers to “prevent criminal events and to solve crime in real-time” in Glenwood South, home to a collection of bars, clubs and restaurants.
Crowds form on the sidewalk as patrons wait to enter parties and weekly theme nights. The clientele includes a mix of young people, visitors and students from nearby N.C. State University.
Traffic tends to spike at peak times, making it difficult for officers to spot trouble from street-level, said Jim Sughrue, a Raleigh police spokesman.
“The thing that sets it (Glenwood) apart is the volume of people and vehicles,” Sughrue said.
More communities are turning to high-tech options to monitor urban hot spots, particularly as budget woes leave police departments strapped for manpower.
Glenwood South emerged as a nightlife destination during the past decade, thanks in part to city-funded improvements that made the area more appealing for reinvestment.
A 126-room Hampton Inn & Suites is scheduled to open later this year as the first hotel in the district, which runs along Glenwood Avenue just west of downtown.
“You all have worked very hard to revitalize this area through lighting and other projects,” Lt. Dana Knuckles told the City Council last week. “It is a quality of life we wish to sustain.”
Police would not give specifics on the number of cameras or how they would be positioned. Divulging too much information would compromise security plans, City Manager Russell Allen said.
Among other uses, the cameras will allow police to more quickly deploy firefighters and paramedics for emergencies, Knuckles told the council.
Access to the surveillance will be limited and controlled by the department, she said. The total price tag is $125,000.
Crowder asked why the police picked Glenwood South and not downtown’s Fayetteville Street, host to festivals, parades and public events throughout the year.
Such decisions are better left to law enforcement, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. “The police are the ones who know the data and know where would be the best place to start this program,” McFarlane said.
Glenwood South is now a regional entertainment destination, said David Diaz, CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which manages and promotes the district. “We will have to balance privacy concerns with safety,” Diaz said.
Solas, a restaurant and bar, hires two off-duty police officers to stand at the door on weekends, said Ryan Jones, a dining room manager. Jones questioned whether cameras would solve crowd-control problems.
“You’re still going to have an influx of people at night – cameras aren’t going to change that,” he said.
It will take several months to learn the fate of the grant application, Sughrue said. Raleigh would join a growing number of cities in deploying cameras to keep watch over high-traffic public areas.
The city of Columbia, S.C., worked with a merchants association to install more than 50 cameras in its college-oriented Five Points area, which has a long history of late nights and hard partying.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have nabbed people breaking into cars and spotted thieves running from burglary scenes, said Capt. Jeff Estes, commander of the department’s central patrol division. But most often, Estes said, cameras are used to pinpoint traffic jams and blocks where pedestrians are overcrowding the sidewalk.
“They’re cheaper than having officers standing on a corner reporting the same thing,” Estes said.