By JULIA MILLER
In 2017, a new ordinance went into effect in Madison requiring external security cameras on the buildings of retail locations. Existing business were given until March 2018 to come into compliance.
“The goal is to reduce crime and to make the City of Madison a safe place to live, work, and play,” Police Chief Gene Waldrop said.
The idea for the ordinance came after the police department found that a lot of businesses did not have any external cameras in the entry areas or parking areas. They also found that the businesses that did have cameras didn’t know how to work the system or the cameras had stopped working.
“We asked ourselves how can we correct this,” he said. “This is a two-way street. The police are out there pursuing the criminals, and it affects the business.”
Waldrop also pointed out that having cameras doesn’t just help their own business, but can help capture images of a crime happening at a neighbor’s store, almost like a neighborhood watch for businesses.
“They’re helping us,” he said. “We’re helping them, and they’re helping each other.”
Since the ordinance went into effect, the police department has only had one issue of non-compliance. The perpetrators vehicle’s entered exactly where a camera would have caught an image.
“In this particular instance, if we had the external cameras we would have had the bad guys that afternoon,” he said, before adding the case has since been closed. “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”
Waldrop said they are not heavy-handed with their enforcement. In this incident, they discussed the code with the business owner and worked with them to come into compliance. The ordinance also allows for an exemption when cameras stop working due to “an act of God including, but not limited to, weather conditions, as long as the camera is restored to operational capacity as soon as reasonably possible.”
Waldrop also said cameras can help businesses when it comes to property liability. Sometimes, cameras can catch an incident that helps with the insurance company and shows real-time what has happened.
The ordinance was passed unanimously by Madison’s board of aldermen on Jan. 17, 2017, and went into effect March 4, 2017 for new businesses. Existing businesses were given one year to come into compliance. The MPD worked with the Madison Chamber of Commerce to ensure that businesses were aware of the ordinance before the vote.
The ordinance cites a Department of Justice study called Community Oriented Policing Services that shows security cameras help reduce fear among customers and they work as a deterrent to crimes that take longer amounts of time. The COPS study “concluded that there is an actual investigative benefit provided by these security camera systems once an offense has been committed.”
The ordinance requires security cameras to monitor the parking lots and entry and exit of doors. The requirement applies to retail business centers that have 25 or more parking spaces and/or a 2,000 square-foot building. The camera must operate from two hours before the opening of the first business in the retail business center, during business hours and two hours after closing of the last business. These areas are also required to post signage informing the public that the area is under surveillance, with at least one sign per every 250 parking spots.
“We anticipate this being a win-win,” Waldrop said. “It’s a way for us to reduce that crime rate and make this a good place to live and visit.”
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