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Downtown Merchants Put the Spotlight on Surveillance

Photo and article by Charlie McKee

Gang tags are the next repainting target of the Neighborhood Alliance.

In their continuing series of meetings regarding criminal and vagrancy issues in the historic downtown area of Silver City, the Safety and Security Task Force of downtown Silver City merchants met at the Silco Theater on Monday evening, September 9, 2013.

 

Faye McCalmont and Steve Townley, who co-chair the Task Force, opened the meeting in the usual manner by asking business owners for brief updates regarding any incidents of note since the last meeting. On the negative side, a break-in occurred at The Hub this past weekend, and knives and jewelry were stolen, as well as a phone line being cut. In addition, merchants at the north end of Bullard Street have yet to see the new "beat cops" on foot patrol in the neighborhood. On the positive side, other merchants have been pleased to see the police on foot patrol and are enthusiastic about the Silver City Police Department's (SCPD) plans to implement a police bicycle patrol downtown. Kathy Anderson, president of the Silver City Neighborhood Alliance, offered the possible use of a storefront downtown for the foot and bicycle patrol officers. She also reported the first successful "paint-out" of gang graffiti on a downtown building and noted that the next paint-out target downtown is another wall displaying a virtual lexicon of gang "tags."

The first guest speaker of the evening was Randy Salars of the Silver City Gospel Mission, who offered advice to attendees on dealing with panhandlers. Salars noted that the Mission offers numerous services to the homeless, including daily meals, and deals with their problems every day. He stated that giving any panhandler money only perpetuates the problem; and, in most cases, any money received goes toward drugs and alcohol instead of constructive care. He urged business owners and others to refer panhandlers to the Mission for services or to try to determine exactly what they need, instead of giving them money. Salars also offered local business owners a small supply of "homeless survival kits," which the Gospel Mission puts together to offer homeless people in need. The kits comprise a large zip-lock bag containing a bottle of water, peanut butter, and other necessities for immediate help to those in need. In addition, the Mission offers restrooms, showers, a daily soup kitchen, and a free clinic; therefore, downtown merchants should refer panhandlers to the Mission's services as an answer to aggressive begging.

Michele Giese of the New Mexico Department of Health also offered merchants copies of a small "Pocket Guide" to services for the homeless, which lists locations to obtain free or low cost food, transportation, child care, shelter, medical care, clothing and other resources. It was suggested that a map be added to the Guide, showing at least the location of the Silver City Gospel Mission.

Concluding the discussion regarding the homeless and panhandlers, SCPD's Captain Javier Hernandez clarified the definition of "aggressive panhandling" as the "intent to coerce or intimidate" someone into giving money. An incident of aggressive panhandling must occur in a public place in the presence of a police officer in order for the police to make an immediate arrest. Otherwise, it must be reported by the victim and charges must be filed in order for an arrest to be made. The act is classified as a petty misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of $50 to $500.

The Task Force then shone the spotlight on surveillance equipment as a potential deterrent to criminal behavior in downtown businesses. Business owner Holly Sytch described both the physical security features that have been added to her property in its recent re-opening downtown, as well as its digital 8-channel Defender video surveillance system, including indoor/outdoor night vision cameras. Sytch emphasized the importance of having high-resolution cameras in order to increase the chances of catching perpetrators and stated that the entire system cost approximately $400. She also stated that she made it obvious to shoppers that they were under surveillance with signs in the shop stating, "Smile. You're on Camera!"

Bob Higgins, the Information Technology expert with SCPD, echoed Sytch's recommendation to implement digital surveillance equipment in shops and businesses downtown. Higgins noted that, as with most technology, prices have dropped significantly in the past few years as advancements have occurred in digital camera technology and recording equipment.

He urged business owners to:

  • Re-evaluate security systems and consider implementing new digital technology;
  • Replace old systems, especially any that are tape-based, since their recordings are usually not clear enough to identify suspects;
  • Be familiar with surveillance system operations; know the passwords; test the system; and ensure that it is working (In one recent police case, a surveillance system had been installed for more than two years and had not been recording anything in that entire time.);
  • Spend your purchasing dollar on high-resolution cameras to ensure identification of the perpetrator; and
  • Make sure that there is a backup system offsite (i.e. not located in the place of business).

Townley also informed the attendees that Kurt Albershardt of the Murray Hotel is in the process of implementing a Wi-Fi surveillance system solution and urged merchants to consult with Albershardt, if they are considering such an option.

McCalmont then asked the group whether they would like to proceed with the Safety and Security Task Force meetings on a monthly basis or bimonthly basis. She also requested ideas for topics to be addressed in future meetings. Several ideas were offered, including: civilian watch groups; judges' sentencing of suspects to psychological evaluation; how to manage vagrant behavior on public benches; a bicycle registration program; and provision of a homeless facility. McCalmont received no feedback regarding frequency of the meeting, and the meeting was adjourned.

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