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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Tampa council to discuss fate of RNC surveillance cameras

Tampa city leaders today are scheduled to discuss what to do with roughly 60 surveillance cameras installed downtown for last month's Republican National Convention. Police have switched off the cameras, but the equipment remains in place — on light poles, traffic posts and buildings. Now city officials must decide whether to keep the cameras trained on Tampa or pull the plug on the system. Options will be discussed by the Tampa City Council at a workshop at 10 a.m. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said he would like to keep them in place, but City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said he thinks officials will opt to relocate them outside downtown where surveillance would help in crime prevention.
"If not the majority, then all of them," Miranda said last week. "I don't believe they'll be up for any long period of time. I don't think there will be an issue where we're going to have a preponderance of cameras." City Councilman Frank Reddick said he sees no reason to have the cameras' lenses focused on downtown. "If the city plans on keeping these cameras, I think they can be better utilized in other areas with a higher concentration of crime," Reddick said. Reddick said he will suggest at the workshop that some of the cameras be installed in East Tampa neighborhoods where the illegal dumping of furniture, televisions, mattresses and other large items is rampant. "If you put them in areas of high crime, people won't look at it like an invasion of privacy, but as a deterrent," he said. Before the system was installed, several city council members were concerned the cameras would remain in place after they were used to spot trouble in the vicinity of the RNC. At a March 1 meeting, Councilwoman Mary Mulhern called it Big Brother-type surveillance. "This is a huge thing," Mulhern said. "We'll have many dozens of security cameras overhead. We don't want permanent surveillance." Police Chief Jane Castor said the cameras "were invaluable to us for traffic control" and for crowd management during the convention. Police have not used the system since the convention ended Aug. 30, spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. The wireless, closed-circuit surveillance system of about 60 cameras cost $2 million and was purchased through a $50 million grant earmarked by Congress for convention security. The city council approved the cameras at its March 1 meeting, on the condition that a workshop be held after the convention to decide what to do with them. The first set of cameras was installed days later.

Reporters Ray Reyes and Chip Osowski contributed to this report.

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