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ABC7 AT 7: Future of surveillance cameras in Sarasota

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Next time you take a walk in Sarasota, look up. You may be on camera. Dozens of security cameras are installed throughout the city but as many as 10 of those aren't working.

The Sarasota Housing Authority installed 25 cameras in 2010. That number has since grown to 66 in areas including Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Five Points Park, Payne Park, and the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex.

"I think they're necessary in certain spots especially where there is evidence of a lot of activity that's not so good," said Carolyn Mason, former Sarasota mayor and City and County Commissioner.

"Cameras can act as a deterrent because people know that they're on the camera and if they commit a crime or something happens then we can go back and view it," said Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

The cameras were installed before Chief DiPino came to the Sarasota P.D. She calls the cameras a crime fighting tool, except some don't work.

"If they're gonna have a certain amount of cameras there they need to be maintained and consistently updated," said Jetson Grimes, who owns a hair salon near one of the cameras on MLK Way.

City officials say up to 10 cameras are inoperable, and Sarasota P.D. confirms one of those sits just feet away from the site of a recent shooting. Investigators were unable to use that footage as evidence but say even if the camera was working, it may not have been beneficial.

"Even with body cameras and in car cameras and cameras that are on the street, if you look at them it really depends on the direction that its pointed at, the vantage point where its pointed at. Does it capture the crime that takes place?" asked DiPino.

Some of the current cameras are outdated and are inoperable due to infrastructure issues. The city is putting a $150,000 price tag on the repairs and designating an employee to oversee the program. City officials will discuss the funding as part of the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget, and will determine which department will manage the cameras. That will take some of the stress of the Sarasota Police Department, who was previously responsible for its oversight.

"From a police department perspective, that's great for us. I don't want a police officer managing cameras and buying them and where to place them and all that. I want police officers doing police work," explained Chief DiPino.

"As long as the cameras are being used in the right content then I really don't think there's a problem with cameras," said Trevor Harvey, President of the Sarasota County branch of the NAACP.

Eight years after the first cameras were installed, some still worry about their privacy.

"You got individuals on the community side that doesn't want it because if they get caught doing something illegal now they have documentation," said Harvey.

Mason understands both sides of the argument, but feels believes the cameras are valuable if managed properly

"I know that there is a part of a legal community that sees that as an infringement on people's rights but I see it as a tool," stated Mason.