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Tavern camera mandate proposed

LARRY SANDLER / Milwaukee Sentinal | October 5 2006

Milwaukee's taverns and nightclubs could be required to install security cameras to keep an eye on customers both inside and outside, under an ordinance proposed by downtown Ald. Bob Bauman.

As written, the measure would apply to all bars in the city. But Bauman said it could be revised to exclude restaurants and small taverns, leaving the focus on the largest establishments - and on the places where patrons cause the most trouble.

"Video allows us to be eyewitnesses to the incidents we're being asked to make judgments on," when neighbors appear at license renewal hearings with claims of violence and disorder at taverns, Bauman told the Common Council's Licenses Committee on Tuesday.

Tavern and restaurant representatives say they understand the advantages of cameras, but they're concerned about the cost of the equipment, which could run into the thousands of dollars for each establishment.

Ed Lump, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said a small restaurant could spend $10,000 to $12,000 on security cameras.

Police Deputy Inspector Anna Ruzinski disputed that claim, saying her department priced a four-camera system at $1,200 last year. But Sally Ferguson, owner of Fhaze II, 3363 N. 27th St., said she spent nearly $7,000 three years ago on a one-camera system with a monitor and recorder, plus the cost of tapes and maintenance.

Bauman's measure calls for taverns and nightclubs to install digital video cameras that produce color images, to keep the images for at least a week and to give them to any law enforcement agency that asks for them. Cameras would be placed outside to watch the parking lot and the street, and inside to provide "a panoramic, full-frame view" of the entire premises.

The requirements would not apply to not-for-profit organizations with liquor licenses, such as churches and veterans' groups, because fights don't usually break out at those places, the legislation says. Bauman said he could support excluding restaurants and "the proverbial ma-and-pa establishments" for the same reason.

Fights, shootings and rowdy behavior are frequently cited - and often disputed - when taverns are facing license suspensions or revocations. Bauman said the videos "really would improve the quality of the evidence" at the committee's license hearings.

Convenience stores already are required to have video cameras, as is any retail establishment where police are called more than three times a year, Bauman noted.

Ruzinski said police believe cameras could be a deterrent to crime and could help police investigate crimes that do occur.

But Prentice McKinney, representing the Milwaukee Metropolitan Entertainment Association, a group of bars and nightclubs, said: "I've never known a camera to prevent crime," although he agreed they are useful in investigations.

McKinney said he has cameras at his bar, Savoy's, 2901 N. 5th St. When his customers become disorderly, he warns them that they're being recorded, but it doesn't stop them, he said.

Mayor Tom Barrett would support the concept, based on a recent study that found shootings dropped at bars targeted for extra scrutiny by police, mayoral spokeswoman Eileen Force said after the meeting.

The committee delayed action on the measure to give Bauman time to modify the legislation in response to tavern and restaurant concerns.


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