Commission backs concept of cameras in downtown Port

Officials say surveillance measure needed in wake of Main Street shooting
Ozaukee Press staff

The concept of having surveillance cameras in downtown Port Washington gained traction Monday as the Police and Fire Commission considered the measure in the aftermath of the June 20 shooting on Main Street.

The commission took no action, but virtually all the members — as well as many of the dozen audience members — said they believe the idea of having cameras has merit.

“I see the need for it. I don’t know if I like the idea of our government watching us all the time,” commission member Jennifer Clearwater said, although she acknowledged “Today, you can’t walk out your door without someone filming you.”

Whether the cameras would be installed by the city or by businesses monitoring the areas around their offices and shops has yet to be determined.

“I’m definitely in favor of it,” commission member Jim Biever said. “I don’t know if it’s a city-wide thing or if we can get enough businesses doing it.”

Biever noted that when Port Main Street Inc. broached the idea several years ago, there was resistance to the concept. That seems to have changed, he said.

Although the organization said it doesn’t have funding to help pay for cameras, Biever said, many downtown businesses want to get information on installing cameras.

“They see a need,” he said.

Commission Chairman Rick Nelson said that if enough businesses installed cameras and agreed to provide footage to police if there is an incident, “it would really help everybody.”

The city should look beyond downtown, Nelson added, perhaps to places like Possibility Playground, where there’s been significant vandalism, and the marina.

“There are certain places I think it makes sense to have a camera,” Nelson said.

Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said business cameras have played a significant role in law enforcement, citing not only the June 20 shooting in downtown but also in finding an arsonist who set numerous fires in downtown four years ago.

The arsonist, who hailed from Wauwatosa, was captured on tape setting a dumpster fire in the alley behind the Ozaukee County Administration Center, and Officer Jerry Nye recognized him from an earlier incident.

“Had it not been for Ozaukee County’s camera, we would never have caught him,” Hingiss said. 

The City of Cedarburg recently installed cameras at a cost of about $6,000, he added.

Russ Schreiner, who said he works for the City of Sheboygan Police Department, said they have proven to be an effective tool for law enforcement.

“We got a little push-back from citizens,” he said. “It does have some worthwhile uses. I get the whole Big Brother watching thing ... they do this all over Europe.”

Some people fear that the surveillance can be abused, Hingiss noted, but he discounted that, noting that the department has policies in place for body camera footage that would likely be used for surveillance footage as well.

“Nobody here at the police department has the time to watch cameras all the time,” he said, adding the department keeps a log of who watches the body camera footage and for how long to ensure it isn’t abused.

 Surveillance cameras are most useful after an incident, he added, when officers can view them to seek evidence in cases.

Mary Monday said cameras can help bring a sense of security to residents and visitors.

“If you’re a law-abiding citizen, do you really care if there’s a surveillance camera?” she asked. 

Dave Didier suggested that the department work with business owners who are interested in cameras, noting many may not have the time to research the best types of cameras and technology.

“I think if we do the legwork for business owners, that makes it a lot easier for them,” he said. “I don’t want to do the legwork.”

Biever concurred, saying, “I think educating our downtown businesses would be a good first step.”

Having businesses install cameras and agree to share footage with police if an incident occurs may be effective, Hingiss said, but he said he would continue to look into the idea of having the city do the work, adding he expects the commission to continue the discussion in the future.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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