Convenience stores

DeKalb’s proposal would mandate cameras in convenience stores — and more

Cochran-Johnson, whose super commission district covers the eastern half of the county, has been working for nearly two years on a bill that would require every unincorporated DeKalb convenience store — all 236 — to have a system of functional video surveillance.

This would require the same of other businesses based on certain criteria, such as whether a business has more than three calls to the police in a 30-day period, or has suffered crimes on a list ranging from homicide and from rape to drug trafficking. .

There are detailed requirements for lighting, image quality, and storage, in case the police need to take a look. And the warrant calls for not just one or two cameras, but one covering every gas pump, entry and exit points, and every cash register.

Cameras would also be needed to cover parking lots and loading docks, and all would need to be operational 24/7 with either infrared or night vision capabilities.

The measure, which will soon be put to a vote, requires initial inspections and subsequent compliance checks by code enforcement employees or police to ensure stores are meeting the new requirements. If not, potential penalties include citations and fines.

Lance Hammonds is president of the DeKalb NAACP and chief of the Rockbridge Coalition, a community group that earlier this year led a rally against convenience store crime. He called Cochran-Johnson’s proposed order belated and much needed, especially given ongoing staffing issues at the DeKalb County Police Department.

“It puts some responsibility and burden back on business owners to provide a safe environment for their customers,” Hammonds said.

Under the order, it would indeed be up to business owners to foot the bill for any necessary surveillance additions or upgrades. Cochran-Johnson estimated he could run the average store between $3,000 and $5,000 if starting from scratch.

The commissioner said owners she spoke to agreed with her efforts – and Angela Holland, chair of the Georgian Convenience Stores Associationdid not refute this claim.

Holland said his advocacy and lobbying group was aware of DeKalb’s proposed order and did not attempt to fight it. She called it “good business” to protect customers and employees.

“It’s already something we’re doing,” Holland said. “That’s why you turn on the news and you see the pictures [of a crime]. It comes from the convenience store.

This may be true in many cases. But DeKalb Police Chief Mirtha Ramos, who supports the county’s initiative, said the quality hasn’t always been there.

“Sometimes we get really good pictures,” Ramos said. “But mostly it’s grainy, you can’t make out faces no matter what.”

Gas station worker shot dead in dispute with customer in DeKalb County, police say

Gas station worker shot dead in dispute with customer in DeKalb County, police say

Cochran-Johnson first wrote his prescription in 2020 and resurfaced last February.

It has been well legislated since and appears to have initial support from commissioners on the Public Safety Committee, which is expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks. The full committee would then also have to approve it.

There is a lot to consider.

While all convenience stores are expected to comply with the new oversight requirements, there’s also the clause that could affect just about any other business in the county.

As written, any “retail establishment” that meets the criteria would be eligible to be designated as a “supervised business” – and then subject to surveillance requirements similar to those of convenience stores.

A dozen offenses are listed as qualifiers, including human trafficking.

Cochran-Johnson said the latter was included specifically to target local extended-stay motels which, not unrelatedly, are home to some of the county’s most vulnerable residents and also magnets for crime.

DeKalb police statistics listed 12 motels that had at least five violent crime incidents in 2021.

The only company with more reported incidents was convenience stores. Although apartment complexes have also had more reported crimes, it is unclear whether they are covered by the order.

Imposing cameras in multi-family developments would be a trickier issue, and Public Safety Committee Chairman Ted Terry said this week that county prosecutors want them dealt with in separate legislation.

Cochran-Johnson confirmed that such legislation is in the works.

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Lester Tate, a longtime Georgia lawyer and former president of the state bar, said governments can probably require private companies to install security systems — but how, when and where such an order is enforced is important. .

“I think as a concept it’s probably not objectionable,” Tate said. “But I think once you get into the details it’s like killing the hydra because every head you cut off there are two that grow back and create other problems.”

All of this, of course, also raises questions about privacy – and whether the cameras even work to deter crime.

Chief Ramos said more cameras would absolutely help his department solve more crimes, but deterrence would likely be slower as prosecutions become public and repeat offenders are taken off the streets.

There do not appear to be any other ordinances in the Atlanta metro area that would provide data relevant to DeKalb’s pending legislation.

Cobb County passed a similar ordinance in 2003, though it is nowhere near as comprehensive; it simply requires that convenience and package stores have “a functional and functional video camera and recording device” at the point of sale.

A 2017 Fulton County law — which only applies to the roughly two square miles of unincorporated county land — requires gas stations where violent crimes have been reported to install lighting and “a system outdoor security camera” in order to avoid losing their liquor licence.

In Atlanta, Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong defended an ordinance last year requiring cameras at gas pumps. But he died in committee.

Explore Gwinnett, a branch of this suburban county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently announced plans to provide local motels with Flock security cameras, which officials say read license plates and provide authorities with “essential information for investigating and solving crimes”. The county, however, has nothing on the books that requires convenience stores to have video surveillance.

Academic research on surveillance cameras and crime, meanwhile, is a bit mixed.

Dekalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson speaks at a news conference in Decatur to announce a $284 million loan under the County Water Infrastructure Funding and Innovation Act by Dekalb on Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / [email protected])

Credit: [email protected]

Dekalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson speaks at a news conference in Decatur to announce a $284 million loan under the County Water Infrastructure Funding and Innovation Act by Dekalb on Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / [email protected])

Credit: [email protected]

Credit: [email protected]

Some studies have suggested no significant impact on crime rates; others reported a drop in property crime, but not violence; still others suggest that, to be most effective, cameras should be combined with other security and prevention efforts.

Read Hayes, a research scientist and criminologist at the University of Florida, said nothing is a silver bullet when it comes to preventing crime. CCTV cameras can make a difference, he said, but should be viewed as an antibiotic or blood pressure medication.

They can be effective, but won’t work for everyone. And dosage, duration, and other pre-existing conditions are all important.

In order to have maximum impact, Hayes said, the cameras should be mounted visibly and not concealed in, say, a plastic dome. The signs don’t hurt. And, one way or another, the possibility of being prosecuted would have to be pushed aside.

Cochran-Johnson, whose own son was robbed at gunpoint from a local store a few years ago, said she wanted to supplement the order with a major public campaign.

“We need to make it known that if you commit a crime in DeKalb, we’re watching you,” she said.