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January 10, 2008
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Focus on high-tech cameras in S.C.

When it comes to security cameras, Columbia wants a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget.

By Adam Beam
The State

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — City of Columbia mulls buying lower-cost surveillance system that can be upgraded later

When it comes to security cameras, Columbia wants a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget.

City Council members have their eyes on a $7 million system that would include cameras that can hear gunshots, have night vision and even dial 9-1-1 -- they just don't want to pay for all of it. Yet.

The compromise is to spend about $2.5 million to install a system that can be upgraded in the future when money becomes available.

"We can cookie-cut all future add-ons," said Vincent Simonowicz, information technology director for the city. "We can scale it to whatever money is available."

Council members tried to find federal funding for the project -- including a $500,000 grant -- without success. Mayor Bob Coble said the city plans to pay for the cameras out of money from its general fund.

At its last council meeting of 2007, members voted to approve the scope of the project, which included

paying an engineering consulting firm $92,000 to come up with a plan of what the city needs.

Council members are expected to approve the contract with the consulting firm at its next meeting on Jan. 9. That would mark the start of a 12-week design process, the conclusion of which would include identifying sites throughout the city for the cameras and what those cameras should be able to do.

Some options city officials are considering:

A mobile camera that can be set up to cover street festivals and other events

nCamera access to neighborhood watch groups to help keep an eye out on their communities

Cameras that work with police officers' laptop computers.

"All these little bells and whistles actually cost money," Simonowicz said. "We have to make sure we are as frugal as possible when we deploy this."

Durham Carter, president of the King Park Neighborhood Association, said he is in favor of security cameras -- as long as they put one in his neighborhood.

"I support the concept wholeheartedly if they make a Herculean effort and get them into the lower Waverly area," he said.

Most City Council members said they are waiting on the consultant's report before deciding where the cameras should go. Councilwoman Anne Sinclair said the council should be "very thoughtful" when deciding where to put them.

"It needs to be in the high population, high crime or maybe just a greater likelihood of crime" (area), she said. "It's going to be expensive."

Copyright 2008 The Columbia State
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