Proposed law pushes cameras to fight crime

Proposed law pushes cameras to fight crime

Posted on Wed, Mar. 12, 2008


(Miami Herald) – More than six months after Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Reyka was gunned down in the parking lot of a Pompano Beach Walgreens, two wanted posters are still taped to the store’s sliding glass doors.

On the bottom of those posters, shoppers see one of the only photographs investigators have that may help them find who killed Reyka early that August morning: a grainy surveillance video image — captured by a camera on a building down the street — of a white sedan speeding from the store after the 18-year-veteran officer was killed.

Some believe that if the drug store had had a camera in its parking lot that night, investigators might have more than just a photo of a possible getaway car — they might have a picture of the killer.

That’s why some of Reyka’s friends and colleagues have joined with state and local lawmakers to expand an existing Florida law and push for local ordinances to require certain late-night businesses to install outdoor surveillance cameras.

Supporters of the proposed law, which would be named after Reyka, say the cameras not only can help protect residents and businesses, they can help solve crimes. They point to a series of high-profile crimes that have been solved in recent years as a result of surveillance videos.

Critics — which include the business community and civil libertarians — raise concerns about privacy, effectiveness and cost.

”There are all sorts of questions that have to be answered,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I don’t think we should make a frivolous decision to make America a society under surveillance.”

And security experts say there’s still not enough evidence to prove the cameras catch more criminals or that they’re a cost-effective crime fighting tool.

”A lot of these crimes happen at night, so they might not be able to get a clear picture,” said James Carafano, a senior fellow who studies security systems at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center in Washington, D.C.

“The cameras might not be pointed toward the right place. And a smart criminal might just break the camera before they commit a crime.”

The proposed Florida law would either require all-night stores to install cameras if they’ve had a recent felony on their property or would reward businesses that do. Some proposed local laws go a step further by requiring all round-the-clock stores to install outdoor cameras.

Around the country, other major cities, including Baltimore and Chicago, have pushed for similar requirements, with mixed success.

In Tallahassee, supporters of the camera proposal will face members of the business community, who oppose the bill and question the wisdom of government-mandated surveillance.

A commercial indoor-outdoor camera system can cost at least $2,500 plus installation, which can run more than $1,000.

Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, which represents 12,000 companies in the state, said he doesn’t think the law is necessary.

”There’s a carrot and a stick already in place,” McAllister said. “We want people to come to our stores because they think it’s a safe place to go and, second, we know we’re liable if there’s an incident.”

Less than three months after Reyka’s death, Pompano Beach, where Reyka spent much of his career, passed a law forcing its 24-hour shops and strip centers to install outdoor cameras by November. And Broward County is drawing up a law that would extend the requirement to all of the county’s businesses.

Surveillance cameras have been credited with helping police identify suspects in a number of high-profile crimes in recent years, including the beating death of a homeless man in Fort Lauderdale in 2006. Surveillance camera images also helped law enforcement agencies solve last year’s string of Broward drugstore robberies. In those cases, surveillance images, along with DNA evidence, phone records and confessions, helped investigators identify suspects.

And some believe surveillance video of Reyka’s slaying would have at least given investigators something to go on.

”We’d have a face to at least know: Black or white? Tall or short? How many people?” said Elizabeth Wolny, a BSO crime analyst who worked with Reyka and plans to push for local surveillance laws in Broward and Miami-Dade if the state proposal fails.

”It really tore me up,” said BSO Detective Freddy Avalos, one of Reyka’s friends who has been lobbying for stronger surveillance requirements.

“And the fact that we haven’t been able to catch the person who murdered him is tearing me up even more.”

The Pompano Beach Walgreens installed an outdoor security camera in October.

An existing state law already requires businesses that sell groceries or gas between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to install a security camera. But that law does not require cameras outside and comes with a list of exemptions for restaurants, large stores and shops where the owner or family members of the owner work the late-night shift.

State Rep. Ari Porth, a Coral Springs Democrat, is sponsoring a bill this legislative session to expand that state law to include any late-night business that has been the scene of a felony since the start of 2008.

The legislation is just one of several bills being pushed in response to the rash of killings of South Florida law enforcement officers. Another bill sponsored by state Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles Beach, and state Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, would increase penalties for criminals who use assault weapons or get them with false identities.

To quell business opposition to his proposal, Porth said, a potential compromise would include incentives, like tax breaks or insurance discounts, for businesses that install cameras, rather than a blanket mandate. State Sen. Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, is sponsoring an incentive-based bill.

But no matter what happens in Tallahassee, Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion Jr. favors a county ordinance requiring cameras outside every Broward business, saying he thinks the county has a better chance of passing stronger surveillance rules than the state.

”I’m not saying these cameras will prevent crime,” Eggelletion said. “But they certainly will help law enforcement by giving them the tools to identify and get a better description of a person and of the vehicles that are being used to commit these crimes.”

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