Port shooting prompts call for downtown cameras

ommission member proposes surveillance system but mayor calls cameras on city property an invasion of privacy
Ozaukee Press Staff

Port Washington Police and Fire Commission Chairman Rick Nelson on Monday proposed the city consider installing cameras downtown, saying the role video footage played in the investigation of a June 20 shooting on Main Street has proved their worth.

“We have to get a little more creative to keep everyone protected,” Nelson said Tuesday. 

While the police department was able to obtain footage from a number of business cameras in downtown during the investigation, officers ran into some roadblocks along the way — including businesses that had no idea how to operate their cameras and low-resolution images that are difficult to use, he said.

A coordinated system could solve those issues, Nelson said.

“I’m not sure everyone is for it or not, but I’d like to have a discussion on it,” he said. “I think this is a sign of our times.”

Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said city officials seem willing to consider the issue in light of the recent shooting.

He noted that the City of Cedarburg recently installed cameras in portions of its downtown at a cost of about $6,000, and Nelson added that the Village of Grafton now requires new businesses to install security cameras.

Those cameras came in handy last fall when police investigated an attempted carjacking in front of Ulta Beauty in Grafton, he noted.

Hingiss said cameras also played a significant role four years ago in finding a Wauwatosa man who set fires throughout downtown Port.

In that case, the man 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. 

But Mayor Marty Becker said he does not agree with the idea of placing cameras throughout the downtown, saying it’s an issue of personal privacy.

“I have no problem if businesses putup cameras on their property,” he said. “If the city has to pay for and put cameras on public property, I am not in favor of that. It’s a government invasion of privacy.

“I should have the right to walk and drive down the street without being recorded.”

Commission member Jim Biever noted that Port Main Street Inc. looked into installing cameras downtown several years ago after persistent vandalism.

“They came close,” he said, adding that the organization might be willing to foot “a substantial amount” of the cost.

Since Main Street looked into the matter, Biever noted, the cost has decreased significantly and the technology has improved substantially.

At the time, concerns were raised by people about the prospect of being watched wherever they go. That’s changed over time, commission members agreed.

“You can’t go anywhere without being on some camera,” Hingiss said.

“I know there are going to be some people who are concerned about Big Brother,” Nelson said. “But if you’re doing the right thing, you don’t have to be concerned.”

He said he doesn’t want to have cameras everywhere, but to have them in strategic spots such as Possibility Playground, which has been struck by vandalism, the marina and one or two in downtown.

“I have no problem putting up signs saying ‘You’re on Candid Camera,’” he said.

“I think the benefits outweigh the concerns.”

The commission asked Biever to talk to Main Street officials and downtown merchants to see if they might be willing to foot the bill for cameras.

“That would be the way to do it,” Biever said. “I don’t think any downtown business would object to it (having cameras in the downtown).”

If the city were to install the cameras, the measure would need to be approved by the Common Council, something City Administrator Mark Grams said would likely occur when the 2019 budget is prepared this fall.


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