Downtown police cameras on pause, for now

2012-12-22T23:00:00Z 2013-10-31T13:14:11Z Downtown police cameras on pause, for nowBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Next time you close down Duffy’s Tavern or Brothers Bar & Grill on a Friday or Saturday night and stumble outside … smile. You might be on a police camera.

Lincoln police installed a pair of cameras at 14th and O streets last month to keep an eye on rowdy patrons when downtown bars close, Chief Jim Peschong said.

The cameras, which can pivot and zoom, sit on street lights at the intersection's northwest and southeast corners. The department paid $5,000 for both with drug money that has been seized.

“Fourteenth and O is kind of a hot spot for the police department,” Peschong said. “We have assaults and shoving matches during bar break.

“People may be outside on the sidewalk, words get exchanged and someone ends up getting popped in the face.”

Marc Fortney, president and CEO of the LaCrosse, Wis.-based company that owns Brothers, said he thinks the cameras are a good idea, so long as investigators don’t use footage out of context and, for example, assume a customer who trips is drunk.

Fortney said he also hopes the cameras don’t replace cops on the street, whose presence can tamp down rowdy drunks before they get out of hand.

“They have a great calming effect,” he said.

Peschong said that won’t happen. The cameras are meant to put an extra pair of eyes on a high-traffic area, not replace officers who police the area.

Duffy's owner Scott Hatfield said he didn’t know about the cameras until Thursday, seven weeks after the first one was installed.

“I had no idea, which is a little bit disappointing,” he said. “I wish somebody had reached out and told me.”

But, Hatfield added, once he contacted the police department, Peschong called him back quickly and gave him the information he wanted.

Still, in his opinion, the O Street corridor doesn’t need the cameras. The restaurants, bars and businesses near 14th and O streets are “one of the brightest spots in Lincoln, one of the most fun reasons to visit Lincoln” and don’t need constant surveillance.

Hatfield said he’s afraid that once customers and shoppers find out about the cameras, they’ll feel like Big Brother is watching them.

“I want to make sure people who come to 14th and O feel like they’re safe and understand they’re not being watched and the police aren’t going to be cataloging information about them.”

They aren’t, Peschong said. The cameras record over footage older than 36 hours, and investigators only will review video after the fact, if they think it can help. The department doesn’t have the resources to have someone monitor the cameras in real-time, he said.

Hatfield said he believes Peschong and trusts the department not to misuse the cameras by zooming in on specific businesses and people. Still, he wonders what will happen when new leaders take the reins.

“I don’t have a whole lot of concerns about the Lincoln police misusing that information. They have been extremely forthright and transparent once I asked about it,” Hatfield said. “Could that change in the future with a change of leadership? Yes.”

After talking with Hatfield, Peschong and Public Safety Director Tom Casady decided to shut down the cameras until they can talk with the mayor’s seven-member Citizens Police Advisory Board, on which Hatfield sits.

“We decided we were going to turn everything off and (talk),” Peschong said, adding that it never crossed his mind to tell bar owners about the cameras because he was just trying to give his officers another tool to do their jobs.

“The whole intent is to help us do a better job and make sure the area is safe.”

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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