Members of the St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously Thursday to have city staff explore how much it would cost to put surveillance cameras along 34th Street and for a mobile surveillance unit.
While the council was unanimous in its want for more information, it was far from sold on the cameras as a whole.
Council members Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton and council chair Leslie Curran, expressed concern that the cameras do not really combat the problem, but just relocate it.
"Cameras can seem like a nice thing, but I don’t want a gimmick," Kornell said. "I want real solutions. Relocation bothers me tremendously.
"We need an approach that solves the problem. Just relocating is not OK with me," Kornell added.
Members of the police department said they have no clear estimate on costs for surveillance cameras because it depends on what type of camera and how large of an area the council wants to cover.
The greatest cost, Michael McDonald with the police department said, is not the hard cost of the cameras up front, but the ongoing maintenance.
"Public safety vs. security vs. surveillance ... what is it we are trying to accomplish as a city," McDonald asked.
Council member Jeff Danner proposed staff look into costs of installing cameras along 34th Street and for a mobile unit.
"If people know there is a camera pointed down 34th Street ... that’s a deterrent," he said. "Just knowing that, it might be a possibility it would help deter (that illegal activity).
Danner said the current infrastructure on that street enables drug activity. From 5th Avenue South to 16th Avenue North, Danner said there are, "20 motels that cannot legally generate enough income to stay open."
Curran said that while cameras could help deter drug activity at the motels on 34th, what happens when the drug dealers move to Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 4th Street, she asked.
Thursday's item was brought before the Public Services and Infrastrucutre Committee by council member Karl Nurse who has advocated that surveillance cameras are crucial to combat growing drug problems in neighborhoods overtaken by drug dealers.
Nurse said the initial costs could be paid for using the police forfeiture fund, which has $1.6 million in it.
The question council and the police will have to decide is if they want the cameras for deterrence only or if someone is going to monitor the cameras.
Staff said monitoring the cameras in real time greatly increases the costs associated with surveillance cameras. "Those (costs) would be significant," McDonald said.
Nurse has also been advocating the use of a recently outfitted Brinks armored truck that has been turned into a surveillance vehicle. He said the visibility of that truck would combat crime immediately.
"People aren’t stupid," he said. "You see the camera there and think 'maybe this isn’t the place to buy crack.' Move (in) and recapture areas that the drug dealers have taken over."
McDonald said police would come before the council in May to ask for funding to complete the armored vehicle. "We hope to have it on the streets very quickly," he said.