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Erik Burgess, Published May 24 2013

Three new surveillance cameras expected to be operating in downtown Fargo by late next week

FARGO – Three new police surveillance cameras are scheduled to be operational in the downtown area by late next week.

Fargo police announced Friday that the cameras are being installed at the 400 block of Broadway.

Three surveillance cameras were set up at the 600 block of NP Avenue last fall in response to increased street-level crimes such as graffiti tagging, property damage and fights.

Since installing cameras on the 600 block of NP Avenue, crime in that area has been reduced overall by 62 percent and at the street level by 89 percent, Lt. Jeff Skuza said Friday during a news conference.

Recent street-level crime trends in the 400 block of Broadway mimic the trend of crime at the 600 block of NP before those cameras were installed, Skuza said, leading police to believe the new cameras will be a benefit.

Despite the success of the program, Police Chief Keith Ternes said he has “no interest” in mounting a camera on every street corner. Police are only interested in placing cameras in areas where crime data suggest they could be useful, he said.

“The reason why they’re on NP Avenue and now the 400 block of Broadway is in direct response to crime issues that Jeff (Skuza) and the officers assigned to the downtown area have identified,” Ternes said. “We’re not interested in just planting them anywhere.”

Representatives from the Downtown Community Partnership and the Downtown Neighborhood Association on Friday endorsed expanding the downtown camera system.

“We feel this will be a real strong addition to the safety of downtown, which is really safe already,” said Doug Anderson, chairman of the board of directors for the Downtown Community Partnership.

Ternes said the same policies and standards for the NP Avenue cameras will apply to the new cameras. A limited number of officers have access to the footage, which is automatically purged after 10 days unless it is being used in an ongoing investigation.

Skuza said he’s heard from downtown residents and businesses that the atmosphere is better since the cameras went up.

“They’ve noticed that there’s a lot less fighting. And they’ve noticed there’s a lot less conflict,” Skuza said. “I’ve not had anyone speak to me about it being more oppressive or an intrusion to their privacy to have the cameras there.”

Ternes said the cameras have not been used to monitor the downtown area in real time. That could change, especially for large events like the Fargo Marathon or the Downtown Street Fair, he said.

“We haven’t done it to this point, (but) we may actually have an officer monitor the footage as captured on the camera in a real-time basis” for those larger events, he said.

Norm Robinson, a spokesman for the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the group “whole-heartedly” supports placing more cameras downtown.

“We feel that if cameras are in other areas of downtown and they keep the crime level lower, that’s just that much better for the residents,” he said.

Skuza said police used remaining dollars from a federal grant to buy the $12,000 camera system for Broadway. Funds from the same grant were used to pay for the $9,000 camera system on NP Avenue.

One camera is already installed on a building at 505 Broadway. Two other cameras will go up on the traffic lights at Fourth Avenue and Broadway, Ternes said.

Crime isn’t just moving to where the cameras aren’t, Skuza said. In the entire downtown area, there has been a 47 percent reduction in total reported crimes this year as of April 18, he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518