With surveillance cameras proliferating in urban environments across the country, Brockton may soon take the plunge in a big way, installing 200 to 300 such cameras across the city.
That, at least, is the plan being pushed by Mayor Bill Carpenter, who said he and Interim Police Chief Bob Hayden conceived the idea during an 8 a.m. conversation Easter Sunday.
“It would make residents feel safer,’’ Carpenter said. “It would change the perception and say that Brockton is safe.”
When the idea struck, said the mayor, he and Hayden were meeting with State Police investigators and prosecutors at the downtown police station in the wake of three murders in two weeks, including one committed the day before in which a Dorchester man died in a drive-by shooting on Grove Street.
Key evidence in two of the killings on April 11 was caught on surveillance tape, he said: one at the Lit Bar on Ames Street in which a man was shot and killed at the bar, and another where a man was stabbed and left to die on a Green Street doorstep.
“Without the videos, the investigations could still be going on,’’ Carpenter said, praising the value of the surveillance tools.
A video from the Lit Bar, also the site of a previous death, shows the crime in progress, the mayor said, while on Green Street, “the murder was solved by a camera installed by the owner of a gas station on the corner, about 100 yards away.”
That got him thinking, Carpenter said. So he approached the city Licensing Commission to propose the imposition of a new condition on licenses.
Carpenter wants restaurants and bars that serve alcohol after midnight, and businesses like convenience stores and gas stations that are open from midnight to 5 a.m., to be required to install cameras both inside and outside their walls. The recordings would then be made available to police when needed.
The commission is expected to take up the issue in late July.
The third prong of Carpenter’s plan is to ask business owners to voluntarily install cameras on their premises. The effort will lead to arrests and convictions for anyone still foolish enough to commit crimes, Carpenter said.
Several businesses and Brockton’s own parking authority have signed on to that deal.
Jason Korb, owner of the new Station Lofts apartment complex on Montello Street, said he has surveillance cameras in public areas of the renovated factory complex, but there is room to add more facing the main street.
“It’s a fine balance,’’ said Korb, a principal at Capstone Communities of Boston. “We don’t want our residents to think they are being constantly monitored, which they are not, but we definitely support this initiative.”
So does David Teixeira of Mattress Makers, a mattress factory that borders Crescent, Montello, and School streets in the downtown area near City Hall.
Teixeira has worked for the company for 30 years and owned it for the last eight. He said cameras are already in place and he will install five or six more outside within the next few months.
“The city doesn’t have the money right now and [the mayor] is doing what he can,’’ Teixeira said. “This is good for everyone. We want a better city for our kids and neighbors.”
Add in the parking authority, Carpenter said, which is installing $50,000 in surveillance equipment at its Crescent Street garage, and a whole city block is monitored at no cost to taxpayers.
Not everyone is so supportive, however, including some civil libertarians who say there is a fine line between proactive policing using surveillance and privacy rights violations.
“The overarching issue is that the way technology is developing today makes the government’s ability to track and follow folks more robust,’’ said Scott Roehm, a lawyer with The Constitution Project in Washington, D.C.
The nonprofit think tank released guidelines in 2006 that it said would help preserve civil liberties in an age where technology is spiraling and surveillance is rampant.
Among its points: “It is understandable that American cities and their law enforcement officers place great emphasis on developing new tools to confront the increased threat of terrorism. But the value of modern video surveillance must be balanced with the need to protect our core constitutional rights and values, including privacy and anonymity, free speech and association, government accountability, and equal protection. The new technologies may help protect the public, but they also enable authorities to more deeply intrude upon these rights.”
Still, Roehm added, “We don’t dispute there are legitimate uses which can be helpful if administered appropriately.’’
As a small bar owner, Pete Moynihan of Mickey Malone’s Tavern on North Pearl Street said he doesn’t have trouble like other establishments. Moynihan runs a sports par with some booths and TVs, and he said it’s the clubs with “pool tables and dancing” that lure trouble.
Still, he said, he’s considering Carpenter’s initiative because cameras can also cover his own assets if an inebriated customer is refused service and goes elsewhere to cause harm. The proof will be on the film, he said.
Carpenter said he will meet with restaurant and bar owners like Moynihan in the coming weeks to hear concerns. But again, he said, he wants those who intend to be open after midnight to install cameras.
And if they don’t agree to comply?
“Then they don’t get a license,’’ he said.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.