Mayor wants surveillance cameras installed downtown

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. wants to see the Board of Mayor and Aldermen put additional money in the city’s information technology department budget for buying surveillance cameras and installing them is different areas downtown.

“I think it’s time for us to seriously look at surveillance and security systems for the city, particularly the downtown area,” Flaggs said before discussing the proposed police and fire department budgets Monday. “City Hall itself has been broken into. I just read an article where a lady was robbed of cigarettes and money over the weekend. I just believe that we need surveillance around the city at least downtown.

“We need a security system and we need to tie it to 911, where 911 is watching all the time what’s going on downtown,” he said. “Bigger cities are doing it, and we ought to be doing it, too. To provide safety to people, we need to put money in IT for that.

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We’ve got to increase security.”

The police department’s capital fund budget includes $60,000 for a mobile tower camera that can extend a video camera about 30 feet in the air for surveillance. The camera was discussed in March during meetings on the city’s litter problem as method for catching illegal dumpers.

Police Chief Walter Armstrong agreed with Flaggs about placing additional cameras in selected areas, adding he preferred freestanding cameras that would work off existing electrical lines. He also recommended monitors at the police department as well as 911 “so two sets of eyes are watching.”

Flaggs suggested installing the cameras in stages, and directed Armstrong to meet with IT Director Billy Gordon and Vicksburg Main Street executive director Kim Hopkins to further discuss the cameras.

The $60,000 for the mobile camera is part of a total of $455,400 in capital items requested by Armstrong. The bulk of that total is $390,000 in new cars for the department, including six Dodge Chargers totaling $210,000 for patrol cars, $70,000 for two Chevrolet Tahoes for himself and deputy chief Bobby Stewart, $56,000 for two crime scene vans, $29,000 for two community resource vehicles and $25,000 for one unmarked Chevrolet Impala for investigations.

Armstrong later withdrew the request for the Tahoes.

He said the patrol cars would replace six cars with more than 100,000 miles that have exhausted their lives as patrol units. The vans, he said, will replaces the pickup truck now being used by the department’s crime scene investigation division.

“Those pickups have soft covers over the back, and we keep a lot of crime scene equipment in those trucks,” he said. “We need a more secure place to keep our equipment.” He added the truck would go to the city’s community service department.

Flaggs asked Armstrong why the community resource officers couldn’t use one of the department’s older vehicles instead of buying new cars. Armstrong said the resource officers couldn’t use a marked car because under state law only sworn officers could drive the cars and the resource officers are not sworn officers.

He said the department uses high mileage cars, some with odometer readings of 85,000 miles or more, adding, “once we stop using them after 150,000 miles, they’re pretty much wiped out.”

Flaggs told Armstrong to return to the budget meetings today, when the board was expected to talk with vehicle maintenance supervisor Barry Warnock about the city’s vehicle fleet.

“We’re going to talk cars, and we’ll see what Barry says and go from there,” he said.

The capital budget for the ambulance and fire departments included requests for a new ambulance, remounting a new body on an existing ambulance chassis, and a new pumper to replace one of the fire department’s aging trucks.

The ambulance department capital budget for new vehicles totals $253,000, with $150,000 requested for the new ambulance and $85,000 for the remount.

Deputy fire chief Kenneth Daniels said the new vehicle replaces an ambulance with a special body type that cannot be remounted. The ambulance department over the past few years has opted to remount new bodies, also called boxes, on the ambulances. The ambulance to be replaced does not allow that.

Daniels also requested two Panasonic “tough book” laptops for the department as backups units. The city is part of a pilot program with the Mississippi Department of Health that sends patient information to the Department of Health for records. The information is sent by the paramedics using the laptops and retained in the ambulance department for future reference.

Fire Chief Charles Atkins said the $450,000 pumper is part of the fire department’s program to annually replace its aging pumpers.

Flaggs told Atkins he was pleased with the chief’s work in holding down overtime, which had been a problem with the department earlier in the year. Flaggs said the drop in overtime combined with a move not to replace retired deputy chief Mark Hales and the department’s IT worker resulted in the department saving $92,046 in pay.

“You have done a very good job, chief,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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