Council approves funding for downtown cameras

Gilroy Police Department Chief Denise Turner, right, and Sgt.

By a 4-2 vote Monday night, the Gilroy City Council approved a
budget amendment of up to $35,000 to help pay for and install six
security cameras in Downtown Gilroy.
By a 4-2 vote Monday night, the Gilroy City Council approved a budget amendment of up to $35,000 to help pay for and install six security cameras in Downtown Gilroy.

Councilmen Peter Arellano and Bob Dillon voted against the amendment. Perry Woodward recused himself from voting because he owns property within 500 feet of where the cameras would be installed.

The vote came weeks after the Downtown Business Association’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve an initial $20,000 toward the project, with the hope that the city would pick up the rest of the tab.

Gilroy Police Department Chief Denise Turner said police and downtown business owners had met over the course of several months, and installing cameras to thwart the perception that the area was unsafe was high on their list.

“People are less likely to commit a crime if they are going to be videotaped,” GPD Sgt. Jim Gillio said. “The more eyes we have out there, the better.”

The cameras will be installed along Monterey Road between Fourth and Eighth streets. There are also plans to post signs in recorded areas reading, “NOTICE: Downtown Video Recording Zone.”

Gillio said the cameras would be able to communicate using a wireless internet signal, feeding information to each other and sending video back to a communications center at the police station.

The money for the cameras will be paid from the current fiscal year’s budget.

Turner called the cameras “an easy fix” in helping halt the perception that downtown is unsafe.

“We can talk all day about the numbers. We’re dealing with perception,” Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz said. “This is an area we invest in. Putting other officers in that area is just not economically feasible.”

Mayor Al Pinheiro also said he supported the cameras project.

“I think it’s one more great thing that we’re doing for our downtown,” Pinheiro said. “If they’re not doing anything wrong then they have no reason to worry about it.”

Councilwoman Cat Tucker said she had some concerns about “Big Brother watching me,” but added,”I’m not going to be doing anything wrong, I’m going to be shopping.”

Not all Council members were easily convinced.

Arellano said he opposed spending money on cameras because it would be another example of “government intervening on private lives.”

“You can’t just walk down the street without government looking over your shoulder,” he said.

He said if the city wanted people to feel safe downtown, installing security cameras sent the wrong message.

“I hope people will understand that downtown Gilroy isn’t that dangerous.”

Eric Howard, president of the Downtown Business Association, said business owners often were forced to scrub graffiti or repair damages to their shops.

He said people couldn’t count on complete privacy when visiting Downtown Gilroy.

“They don’t expect to be anonymous,” Howard said. “You don’t expect anonymity when you go downtown.”

Howard even suggested a lighthearted sign be posted in the cameras’ filed of vision: “If you’re here to have fun, great. If you’re here to cause problems, you’re on camera.”

Arellano asked Howard what was stopping individual business owners from purchasing cameras themselves instead of using city funds.

“Why don’t we abolish the police department and every business can hire their own security?” Howard responded.

Dillon said he wouldn’t approve the project but would like to see it go out for another bid.

Councilman Dion Bracco said he had a problem with the price of the cameras, adding that a 20-camera security system he purchased for his towing business cost significantly less than the one proposed for downtown.

“I can’t support it the way it is written now. I would ask that it would go out to rebid.” Bracco said. “Six cameras, fifty-grand? To me, that’s just crazy.”

Bracco ended up voting in favor of the cameras.

Gillio explained the cameras weren’t cheap, as they are weatherproof and come equipped with a high-quality optical zoom.

Howard told Council members installing security cameras wouldn’t be the answer to all of downtown’s problems, but it was a good start.

“If we can just take away one layer at a time, we’re going to have the downtown we all wish we had,” he said.