Sunday, August 03, 2008

Flint Seeks Sponsors For Police Surveillance Cameras; Some Question Whether It's Appropriate

Photo: Ryan Garza | The Flint Journal
Flint-based Asset Protection Specialists Inc. is seeking a loan from a state fund to buy a facility to make security cameras such as this one, which it installed at Jewell and Cecil drives. The city also is looking for sponsors of the cameras.

by Bryn Mickle | The Flint Journal
Sunday July 27, 2008, 9:00 AM

FLINT, Michigan -- Willing to spend $30,000 to put your name on a camera?

The City of Flint is looking for sponsors for surveillance cameras that will be mounted around the city to keep a watch out for crooks.

In exchange for cash, the city will plaster business names next to police logos on the pole-mounted camera boxes that sport a blue police light that flashes 24 hours a day.

Don't have $30,000? Depending on the size of the check, smaller logos and even people's names can be placed on the boxes similar to those found on a NASCAR racer.

The "Adopt-A-PODSS" program is part of an unique partnership between the city and Asset Protection Specialists, a private security firm in Flint.

Fliers with the company's name and city logo have been circulated touting the cameras and plans are underway to put a PayPal link on the city's Web site for camera sponsorship donations.

Police have been looking for a way to expand the program after being thrilled with the lone surveillance camera keeping an eye on things at Cecil and Jewell drives on the city's north side.

But given Flint's money problems, officials have been forced to get creative in finding a way to fund the $420,000 price tag for 14 more cameras.

While drug forfeiture money and grants should offset some of those costs, supporters hope businesses will step forward with tax-deductible sponsorship money.

Jesse Ford is all for a camera in his Hamilton Avenue neighborhood.

"We need one," said Ford, who lives near the spot where a man was shot to death in the street Tuesday night.

"I know they're expensive, but something needs to be done," said Ford.

Flint is not the only government entity to look to the private sector for help with surveillance cameras.

About a quarter of the $400,000 price tag for Flint Township's network of 24 police cameras was paid by businesses who wanted cameras on their property, with the rest of the cost coming from a business development authority.

Although sponsors for the Flint cameras won't have their pick of an exact location, the arrangement troubles the head of a Lansing-based government watchdog group.

"If it's such a good idea, why not use tax funds for (the cameras)?" said John Chamberlin of Common Cause.

Although cities commonly partner with private businesses for services, Chamberlin said they don't usually go to the extent that Flint is trying.

Chamberlin worries that areas with more cash may get preferential treatment, while poorer sections get less cameras.

The Journal could not reach Flint Police Chief David Dicks for comment on the plan.

But Steve Melish, financial manager for Asset Protection Specialists, said the company and city are looking for a mix of cameras throughout Flint.

So far, no one has stepped forward to sponsor a camera, Melish said.

An open house is planned in the weeks ahead to drum up interest, but a local Chamber of Commerce representative said it's in the hands of businesses to decide how much they are willing to spend on security measures.

"Everybody wants a safe business community. ... Fear of crime drives business away," said Steve Flynn, who handles membership services for the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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