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News 2 Investigates: Crime camera costs, criticisms

3 years 4 months 1 week ago May 16, 2013 May 16, 2013 Thursday, May 16 2013 May 16, 2013 10:32 PM in The Investigative Unit
Source: WBRZ
By: Chris Nakamoto

BATON ROUGE- A News 2 investigation into crime cameras in the city of Baton Rouge revealed thousands of dollars are being spent on the current system, but there hasn't been one conviction in court as a result of the expensive crime fighting tools.

At least one Baton Rouge Metro Council member is raising questions about whether they are located in the right areas.

"We had a situation where there was a lot of crime going on," Councilwoman Tara Wicker said. "I called and said can we get a camera located here? They were in the process of making transitions and unfortunately before they could put a camera there, a man was murdered."

Wicker is talking about the murder that happened in July of 2011 at the corner of North 25th and Main Streets. It frustrated her so much, she began questioning whether the cameras are currently in places where crimes are occurring.

"I don't think it's being utilized in the highest fashion that it should," Wicker said.

Documents News 2 obtained show the camera system is quite expensive. From April of 2012 until April of this year, the city spent $89,626.43 for upgrades and routine maintenance on the system. Receipts News 2 received show the city purchased at least ten high definition cameras, a generator for power outages and a bucket truck to perform maintenance on the system.

It's easy to find the mountings on light poles in Baton Rouge where cameras once were, but many have been taken down, dismantled or possibly moved. At least one resident we spoke to said two cameras used to be across the street from her home.

"They putting them up and someone tearing them down," she said. "That's a waste of money."

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore supports the camera system, but said there have been no convictions in court as a result of the cameras.

"Solely based on a crime camera, no," Moore said. "Here in Baton Rouge, we don't have that high quality, but they can be helpful for investigations and tools of an investigation."

We reached out to the Baton Rouge Police Department to get an interview regarding the crime cameras. We were referred to the mayor's office, and from there to Assistant Chief Administrative Officer John Price.

Price scheduled an interview, then five minutes before it was to begin News 2 was told by his secretary that he had backed out. We were then referred back to Baton Rouge Police.

Interim Police Chief Carl Dabadie did do an interview with us, but our questions about maintenance, money and additional cameras for the city were beyond his department's scope, and they could only talk about the system as a crime fighting tool. Information regarding funding and maintenance comes from the mayor's office.

"If it captures one event, that event makes it worth it for us to keep the system up and running," Dabadie said. "That one event could solve a murder that we may not be able to solve without that camera."

Right now, Baton Rouge has about 60 crime cameras which are not monitored. Compare that to LSU, which has 600 monitored cameras during special events. Information on maintenance from the City of Baton Rouge wasn't available, but LSU leaders told News 2 maintenance makes up a huge portion of the expense for cameras.

"It is a daily process," Cory Lalonde with LSU Police said. "It's a process where our IT people that are in charge of the cameras do have to maintain them on a daily basis, check them and make sure they are in good working order."

It's unclear whether Baton Rouge performs routine maintenance on the cameras because the Mayor's Assistant Chief Administrative Officer backed out of an interview with us. What is clear is that the crime cameras are expensive, with no proven track record of results.

"We don't know if we're using them or not using them," Wicker said. "So, if we're using taxpayer dollars, at least we need to be able to answer those questions."

Wicker said she believes crime cameras are a useful tool if they are placed in strategic locations where crimes are happening. She intends to sit down with city leaders for a third time to discuss this issue.

Three years ago, New Orleans stopped paying for maintenance for the defunct crime camera system in the Big Easy due to the system's ineffectiveness.

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