Arkansas Town Considers Surveillance-System Ordinance

By John Worthen | November 15, 2012

It’s been nearly two months since someone gunned down a convenience-store clerk during an attempted robbery, and Pine Bluff, Ark., police investigators are still searching for the shooter.

A security-camera system inside the store malfunctioned.

Authorities said the investigation, which is continuing, would be easier if the cameras had worked properly.

Now, some Pine Bluff leaders are discussing a proposed ordinance to require convenience stores and restaurants to install and maintain surveillance cameras on their premises.

“What we want to ensure is the safety of people working in these stores,” said Alderman George Stepps, who is sponsoring the ordinance. “That’s the bottom line here. That’s why I am proposing this.”

A joint meeting between the city’s public-safety, and development and planning committees will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the issue further.

Pine Bluff, which has a population of 49,083, could be the first Arkansas city of its size or larger to have such an ordinance.

Various city clerks across the state said their cities have no surveillance-camera requirement, and Assistant Pine Bluff City Attorney Joe Childers said he was unaware of any such law in Arkansas towns and cities.

Stepps wrote in his proposal that cameras could deter robberies, as well as provide evidence against suspects.

Fines of up to $1,000 could be levied against store owners, operators, managers or clerks at any property found to be in violation of the law, according to the proposal.

The Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department would inspect and ensure that cameras are operable.

But the exact details of the ordinance have yet to be fleshed out, Stepps said.

Brenda Wright, owner of the Ranch House Barbecue restaurant in Pine Bluff, said she wants to learn more about the details of the ordinance and how much a surveillance camera system would cost her business.

“Right now, it’s just very vague,” said Wright. “I am not necessarily against the ordinance, but business owners need to know exactly what to do. We don’t want fines, and we don’t want to have to spend a whole lot of money on cameras, either.”

Cameras were not working inside the Big Red Food Mart at 2401 E. Sixth Ave., on Sept. 25, when clerk Mohammad Islam was shot to death, police have said.

Capt. Greg Shapiro, public information officer for the Pine Bluff Police Department, said in an e-mail that the department supports Stepps’ proposal and sees it as a crime deterrent.

“We asked for this piece of legislation following (Islam’s) murder,” Shapiro said in an email. “We don’t want to place a financial burden on any business, but this is 2012, and the technology is available and affordable to protect employees (of these businesses) and help us deter, as well as solve, crimes.”

Jay Singh, manager of the Cracker Box convenience store on Olive Street, said his store just installed a new surveillance system a few months ago.

He said all stores should have them, and he supports the proposed ordinance requiring cameras.

“It’s a safety thing,” Singh said. “I feel safer with cameras in here, and I know my employees do as well. It’s a good idea.”

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