Terrace city council ended 2017 with an in-depth discussion on video surveillance in the downtown area, and are now moving forward on preliminary steps to get legal approval.
City staff is working on a privacy impact assessment which will be sent to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to ensure the city has sufficient legal reason to install video cameras.
Council first approached the idea last October, asking staff to research the costs of a surveillance system before they moved further on the discussion.
The system is estimated to cost $10,000 per camera — about $6,000 for the equipment, $4,000 for installation. Lighting and the area to be surveyed would also impact the costs.
The next step will now require public engagement to form a city policy for video surveillance, currently being considered for George Little Park and Brolly Square.
“People don’t feel safe (in George Little Park),” Councillor Lynne Christiansen said, adding that cameras could deter crime in that area, and increase the sense of safety there, a change that would have broad reaching impacts.
“The park is just a little piece of our community, but I think that if we can do something about that, it has spill-off effects everywhere in our community.”
Footage from the video cameras, if installed, would only be reviewed if a specific incident required it, and there would be strict regulations on who could see it, explained city corporate administrator Alisa Thompson in a Dec. 20 Committee of the Whole meeting on the topic.
A parent, for example, could not check the video tapes to see if their teen was at the park, but privacy rights require that individuals can see any footage of themselves.
Most city councillors indicated that they favoured video surveillance in George Little Park and Brolly Square, where most of the downtown RCMP-involved incidents occur.
Councillor James Cordeiro said he believes it would help protect city property from vandalism and create a safe downtown.
“We have a responsibility to protect our assets,” he said, adding the city’s goal is to create a welcoming downtown.
“I know people have privacy concerns, and for me that is covered by exhaustive and onerous regulation and we obviously have to follow that regulation to the letter, and that really should be addressing people’s privacy concerns.”
Councillor Brian Downie agreed.
“We’ve heard anecdotally that we have safety problems… but the numbers here are pretty shocking,” he said, referring to a report from the RCMP about the amount of calls for service.
The RCMP said that in just under a year, Jan. 1, 2017 to Nov. 27, 2017, they received 158 calls for service to George Little Park, including 13 assault-related, 59 related to disturbance and intoxication.
In Brolly Square, police had 83 calls for service in the same time period, mostly disturbances and intoxication.
Downy said the amount of crime “should not be accepted.”
“My feeling is that we ought to embark on this in a measured way,” he said.
But councillor Michael Prevost seemed hesitant, saying video surveillance should be seen as a last resort, something noted by the OIPC.
Prevost said the city should do a general safety audit first, and look at other options to improve downtown safety, such as improving lighting.
“I want to see that we are doing everything we need to be doing…. we’ve heard time and time again that we need to improve lighting.”
“I think this is an important piece we need to address, before we go down the road of video surveillance.”
Other city councillors agreed a safety audit would be useful, but most stood by their approval of video surveillance.
Councillor Sean Bujtas added that while improved lighting could be valuable, it would not affect the majority of crime at the park, which happens during the day.
A member of the public also spoke at the meeting urging council to take seriously the sense of insecurity people feel about safety-levels in the park.
“The people that I talk to, they basically don’t go to the park anymore,” said the resident. “And they won’t let their kids go to the park (either). It’s pretty sad.”
That unsafe feeling is 24/7, not only when it’s dark, she added, noting that lights may help, but it will not solve the issues.
“For me personally, I’d like to feel safe walking down the sidewalk [but] I don’t…. Something needs to be done, or else don’t bother investing any more money in trying to make our downtown live-able.”
Councillor Stacey Tyers was out of town for the meeting and mayor Carole Leclerc did not share her thoughts on the issue.