Two weeks ago, SFR set out across two of the busiest commercial areas in Santa Fe to find out whether any outdoor security cameras had recorded evidence of the suspect (or suspects) who recently stole some 400 copies of the Reporter.
Around the Plaza—from Water Street to Marcy Street—we found just one outdoor security camera that catches passersby walking into the Santa Fe Arcade, where Marble's patio juts out over the Plaza. We found a separate "Earth Cam" that offers a panoramic view of the plaza, but without much detail.
In the Railyard area, SFR found one camera on top of the Sanbusco Market Center, but it wasn't operating, according to a shop employee and a security guard. We found no cameras monitoring busy Guadalupe Street near the Cowgirl BBQ, a late-night hotspot.
SFR, of course, didn't cover the whole city. But we discovered that, unlike many cities, Santa Fe operates largely off-record.
That might soon change. The Santa Fe City Council is set to vote on whether Chavez Security Inc., a private security firm owned by former Santa Fe City Councilor Peso Chavez, should install indoor and outdoor security cameras in at least 16 different public spaces across the city, mostly at parking lots, garages and trailheads. The bid also calls for a system capable of storing surveillance footage for up to two years.
Chavez Security—which already has a contract to provide security guards for the city—put the total cost at $289,177. The annual price for the archiving the footage could be another $12,240, according to Chavez' bid.
"I know we were the lowest bidder," Peso Chavez says. "And we met every single qualification."
The City Council will decide whether to approve the bid at one of its upcoming meetings, possibly as soon as next week, says city spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter.
Proponents say the cameras would help prevent and monitor criminal activity in a city still suffering from high property crime rates. Yet the city must balance privacy concerns with public safety, and critics worry that the new cameras could infringe on Santa Feans' rights to go about their business unmonitored.
Chip Christians, a manager at Touchstone Gallery, off West San Francisco Street, says installing cameras to monitor public spaces is a "slippery slope." The area around his shop has seen dangerous activity: Just down the block, Musa Nassar, owner of Santa Fe West Gallery, discharged a firearm at a moving vehicle in early January, stoking concerns among area shopkeepers. Police didn't charge Nassar, who was in a high-profile court battle with his cousin, Ashraf Nassar. Christians, however, says he wasn't concerned because it was a onetime incident. The only troubling activity he usually sees has to do with inebriated bar-goers. "Someone will puke out front every now and then," he says. "Here's my attitude: Why not put more cops on the streets?"
But the city—in what Mayor David Coss calls its "fourth year of austerity"—has struggled in both recruiting and paying for additional police officers, even as its population rises. Coss tells SFR that Santa Fe Police Department has about eight vacancies. Factoring in benefits, he says, one new police officer costs the city about $100,000. (A police spokeswoman agrees with that estimate.)
"A camera is much, much less expensive than a person," Coss says.
While property crime has declined—progress Coss and police attribute to SFPD's Operation Full Court Press, an effort that began last year to direct more resources to property crime prevention—it hasn't disappeared entirely. Coss cites incidents of car break-ins near parking areas of trailheads, where some cameras are slated to be installed, and says his son had a rock thrown through the window of his car at a Dale Ball trailhead. Coss says the cameras will help deter that type of activity.
"I think [the privacy] concern is always there," he says. "I guess the mayor part of me that gets the calls when somebody's been broken into, robbed, harassed, screamed at or punched is—don't do illegal stuff in public, you know? When you're on the Plaza or at the trailhead, don't do stuff you're embarrassed by, you know? It's kind of like, when you drive a car, don't drive drunk, because we will violate your right to privacy and arrest you."
City Councilor Patti Bushee says her opinion on security cameras in public places "has evolved over the years."
"Honestly, I get a little creeped out with, you know, the Big Brother aspects, with cameras too liberally utilized," she says.
But Bushee, whose district includes the Railyard, where some cameras could be installed, says she voted in favor of publishing the security camera bid "because crime has increased, and we've been unable to keep up with the pace, for instance, of break-ins at the trailheads…and the parks."
Police spokeswoman Celina Westervelt says SFPD encourages shopkeepers to post their own cameras, but that the city wouldn't have the budget or ability to install them on private property.
"Would it be a good resource?" she asks. "Heck yes."
Coss also indicates that he wouldn't oppose eventually installing more than the current number of proposed cameras to monitor public spaces.
"Let's see what kind of issues we have," he says. "Let's see if [the cameras] are useful."
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