Someone stole a tire from Samuel Opoku’s sedan during Christmas vacation while the car was in his company’s parking lot.

Opposite his used tire and car service shop on Forrest Road, rubbish and old mattresses are piled up in an abandoned lot. Someone was recently shot at the Circle K gas station just down the street. People from the nearby Family Dollar were also shot, he said.

“There’s so much bad going on right now,” Opoku said. “I have a lot of friends who try to walk away because of the way people shoot every day.”

Local leaders are proposing a new city-wide camera and artificial intelligence system to help fight crime – a move that would be a big help for business owners like Opoku, he said. -he declares.

The Columbus Consolidated Government is reportedly spending about $8 million on technology that monitors public spaces, high-crime areas and illegal dumping hotspots.

Columbus Council is set to vote Tuesday on the first phase of the project: $3.2 million for about 600 cameras in 33 different areas, including 20 cameras that will be relocated to crime and dump areas identified by police and departments. of the sheriff.

Although Opoku’s shop has cameras, the areas around him could use a few.

“I would be so happy if they could put some anywhere here,” he said.

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An empty lot off Forrest Rd. is strewn with trash on January 7, 2022 in Columbus, Ga. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

The breakdown

The new system will add more cameras and give city law enforcement direct access to all footage, Deputy City Manager Lisa Goodwin told the Ledger-Enquirer.

“That’s the whole point,” she said. “Different departments have different cameras, so we had to use one system.”

The city has approximately 1,100 cameras installed throughout the city. METRA, the city’s public transportation system, and the Columbus Civic Center use the majority. If the Columbus Police Department or Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office needs access to footage, they ask individual city departments, Goodwin said.

According to plans for the new system, more than 1,800 cameras would replace the old system. They would be installed in three phases. The first phase includes the 20 mobile cameras as well as the city’s parks and recreation centers. The council purchase agreement mentions Carver Park by name.

In the second phase of the project, about 600 cameras would be installed in public safety areas and other city buildings like the health department for about $2 million. Phase three would see 645 METRA, Civic Center, Public Works and Mall cameras replaced for about $2.9 million, Goodwin said.

Most of the $8 million to fund the project would come from Columbus’ share of the US bailout, the $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden last year. Goodwin said.

City officials declined to reveal exactly where the cameras will be placed — including mobile crime and dump cameras — so as not to warn criminals. Goodwin said residents shouldn’t worry about their privacy.

“All of these cameras will be in public places,” she said. “We’re not looking to see what’s in your car. We are not looking to see inside your home or business. These cameras are all in areas where they are now and have been for years. »

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Trash gathers in a residential area on Grant Rd. in Columbus, Georgia, Jan. 7, 2022. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

How do the cameras work?

The city worked with two contractors on the project, LaGrange-based AdapttoSolve and California-based Verkada.

Verkada provides the cameras and the technology. AdapttoSolve is the camera’s general contractor that conducted a site survey of 75 installations in the city and other areas, Goodwin said.

Verkada representatives appeared before the board in late November to explain how the camera system works.

The cameras are 360 ​​degrees, can see at least 100 feet, and record clear images at night. They can detect the movements of people and vehicles, even allowing someone to search images for a specific shirt or car color. The system detects when a camera goes offline and notifies the city via email or text message if someone tries to tamper with the camera.

Mobile cameras can be moved and relocated to identified high crime and landfill areas. The cameras can read license plates but would not be used by the city to monitor traffic violations, Goodwin said.

The images from the cameras are searchable and stored online. Columbus law enforcement and city employees can access the footage on iPads and cell phones using a virtual private network.

The CPD and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office will monitor the system. The goal is to help local law enforcement leverage their limited resources, Adapttosolve Vice President Jake Hagler told the Columbus Council.

“You can’t bully a camera”

Sheriff Greg Countryman previously told the Ledger-Enquirer his department had about 50 unfilled positions, including deputies, corrections officers and bailiffs.

While he’s not sure how much the cameras will help solve problems caused by understaffing, extra sets of eyes and ears are a good thing, he said.

The department monitors approximately 300 cameras at city buildings and facilities, including the Government Center, Citizens Service Center and city parks.

While Countryman did not specify where the new cameras might be placed, he said his department is receiving complaints about several areas, such as locations near Cusseta Road and Dawson Street as well as the spider web intersection at Buena Vista Rd. The data and hints called will influence the placement of the cameras.

“It improves the way we investigate things now,” he said. “You can’t intimidate a camera. … It’s a huge asset for (Columbus). It’s going to make us a safer city and it’s going to give some people a sense of comfort.

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Ronzell Buckner describes an illegal dumping problem plaguing the surrounding neighborhood at his restaurant, Skipper’s Seafood in Columbus, January 7, 2022. The Columbus council is considering a proposal that would add hundreds of cameras around the city to catch those who commit crimes such as illegal deposit. Madeleine Cook [email protected]

For Ronzell Buckner, owner of Skipper’s Seafood and founder of community development organization Turn Around Columbus, the cameras are a step in the right direction.

Behind his business on Buena Vista Road, there is litter on the streets and yards of the neighborhood. He lives in the Steam Mill Road area and someone keeps piling trash in a house nearby. The new system would make a “big difference”, he said.

“Some of these people move here because they love Columbus. And when they get here, they start to see everything that’s going on and they change their minds about staying here,” Buckner said. “This thing about the trash and the violence we have in our community, we have to work (or) someone else is going to eat our lunch.”

The city, Buckner said, needs to do more to address crime and illegal dumping issues. He suggested changes to parts of the city’s enforcement code, such as allowing law enforcement officers to issue citations by certified mail or leaving the notice in the door.

“I think we should install more cameras in the community,” he said. “Something has to happen, and you have to see what’s happening in order to fix it.”

This story was originally published January 25, 2022 06:00.

Nick Wooten is the Accountability/Investigative Reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer, where he is responsible for covering several topics, including Georgian politics. His work may also appear in the Macon Telegraph. Nick received the 2021 Emerging Journalist Award from the Georgia Press Association for his coverage of the election, COVID-19, and Columbus’ LGBTQ+ community. Prior to joining McClatchy, he worked for the (Shreveport La.) Times covering city government and investigations. He graduated from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.

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