College Park council discusses keeping security cameras downtown, despite $150,000 cost

College Park City Council members listen to a presentation during their work session on Oct. 15, 2019. (Angela Mecca/For The Diamondback)

The College Park City Council plans to move forward with approving a new agreement with the University of Maryland Police to keep live streaming security cameras downtown.

The council revisited the issue at its work session Tuesday after discussing it with university and city officials last month.

The University of Maryland Department of Public Safety operates 21 live streaming cameras throughout the area, giving police officers a real-time look into different areas downtown.

Since 2011, the city has had memorandums of understanding — contracts without legal binding — with the department agreeing on the use of the live monitoring camera system. And recently, the council has been discussing a newly proposed memorandum, following the previous one’s expiration. The council has the option of switching to cameras that don’t livestream, but record for later viewing.

During Tuesday’s work session, the council talked about the benefits of keeping the current livestream camera system, and considered the possible implications of switching to cameras that only record.

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College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn and several council members asked Bob Ryan, the city’s public services director, for data showing how effective the livestream camera system really is.

“Certainly the live monitoring can be helpful in some cases,” Wojahn said. “I think what we don’t know is how frequently it actually is helpful.”

City manager Scott Somers said the city is “not keeping that type of data.”

The council then discussed the need for more data throughout the rest of the discussion, and debated whether the system’s cost is justified.

For the first three years the live monitoring cameras were in place, there was no cost for the service. But after the original memorandum of understanding expired in 2014, the system began to cost the city an average of about $140,000 per year.

The annual costs of the live monitoring camera system with the proposed memorandum are predicted to increase to about $150,000 for fiscal year 2020.

“$150,000 for the city,” said District 2 councilman P.J. Brennan at the work session in September, “is another person on our staff, so it’s a significant amount of money.”

The switch to record-only cameras would bring savings of $135,345, which would allow the city to fund the purchase and installation of six more cameras annually for the city.

“There’s a huge cost savings there for us, we have the ability to put more cameras throughout our city,” Brennan said Tuesday, adding he’s leaning toward shifting away from the livestream camera system.

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But at the work session in September, University Police leaders present said the cost of keeping the current monitoring system in place will be worth it to keep the community safe.

“It’s worked very well, the crime rates off campus have gone down dramatically,” said University Police Deputy Chief David Lloyd of the live monitoring camera system at the work session last month.

Lloyd said at that meeting that having the live monitoring cameras in areas helps University Police to keep an eye on their main priority: students.

“The issue is, in my opinion, it’s about safety,” Lloyd said in September. “It’s a lot of money, $150,000, but for a matter of keeping the citizens of College Park safe. The residents, the visitors, the students, all of the above, what’s that worth?”

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Wojahn suggested the council should continue with live camera monitoring through the 2020 fiscal year, but said University Police would need to be diligent with collecting data about the system’s efficacy in the meantime.

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