Surveillance cameras to watch downtown Athens from above
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Julia Barnes, a University Spanish instructor, and Tom Bavis are seen crossing Lumpkin Street from the approximate view of one of the cameras which will be installed on multiple street corners downtown. "It's a little out of control down here, as a teacher it worries me," said Barnes about the cameras. (David Banks - The Red & Black)

Students leaving home for the fall might be surprised to learn they're still under curfew.

Downtown Athens soon could look much different after a series of policies and ordinances passed by the Athens-Clarke County Commission this summer go into effect.

Among the changes made by the commission are a smoking ban -- which prohibits smoking from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in all restaurants and bars -- an obstruction and prowling policy and an ordinance that allows for the installation of at least 15 surveillance cameras downtown.

University students will now be watching their backs closer than ever.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted 8-2 in favor of installing a minimum of 15 cameras downtown.

The exact number of cameras, and when they will be installed, will depend on the bids the police department receives, said Hilda Sorrow, the ACC Police Department spokesperson.

The purchase and installation of cameras will cost about $116,000, according to commission documents.

Some commissioners who voted against the camera installation said they think it is unnecessary to watch the public so closely.

"(It's) sending the wrong message," said Commissioner David Lynn. "We don't need 24-hour monitoring of law-abiding citizens."

Commissioner States McCarter, however, said he thought the cameras would aid the police in tackling the crime problem.

"It's a sign of our times," he said. "We get recorded everywhere we go now ... I'm a privacy rights person too, but anything you do on the street ought to be (public).

"If I want to go out with someone's wife, I'm not going to do that downtown and flaunt it," he said. "I'll take her back home."

According to the ordinance, ACC police will monitor the cameras during "peak activity hours" from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., Thursday-Saturday, as well as during "special events."

Of the $116,000, allotted for the cameras, $86,000 will go toward equipment, and $30,000 will go toward installation and miscellaneous costs.

"Given downtown's increased population density and transition from a regional retail center to a regional hospitality venue, there is a greater demand for police services in order to keep the area safe," the ordinance states.

Both the camera and obstruction ordinances are a response to the November shooting last year outside the Insomnia nightclub, Commissioner Tom Chasteen said.

Brannon Parker, a sophomore from Bainbridge, said the cameras could be helpful if a medium were reached between spending a lot of money and developing an effective method of stopping crime.

"I guess it would come in handy with someone breaking into a car or something," he said. "If it were my car getting broken into, I would like it to be on camera.

Commissioner McCarter said the commission adopted the ordinances to "improve the downtown situation."

"There is such a diverse population of people," he said. "No matter how innocuous it is, people are going to come out and (disagree) no matter what you do."


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