BRADENTON -- Is big brother watching?
And if he is, who is he?
Big brother is terminology that spy movies and government conspiracists have transformed into a darker, more sinister meaning. But if ensuring downtown Bradenton continues to grow into a family friendly environment means the installation of security cameras along the Riverwalk, that might give the big brother image a friendlier concept.
"We want all of downtown to be completely safe and this is just another tool we can go back into and spot who did what," said Bradenton Police Chief Mike Radzilowski. "It's already paying for itself."
Sections of the 20-camera system went online for the first time last week, and on the first night of operation captured two men breaking into vehicles near the Twin Dolphin Marina.
"We very rarely have a crime issue downtown," said
Radzilowski. "What are the chances two knuckleheads would decide to break into cars on the first night the cameras were running?"
Radzilowski said the two men were identified by a patrol officer who recognized their faces in the video. They were spotted the next night attempting to break into another vehicle, at which time they were arrested.
David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, said the technology of the new cameras is incredible.
"The high resolution on these cameras is going to make it very easy for police to identify a suspect's face to question and determine their involvement in any criminal activity," said Gustafson.
DDA funded the $60,000 surveillance camera project that will provide coverage for an area of Riverwalk from 15th Street West near the skate park to the Twin Dolphin Marina area -- the first two parts of a four-phase project. The next phase is planned for the streets around city hall, and Gustafson said the final phase includes Old Main Street if further funding becomes available.
"It's a bit creepy and big brothery," said Sharon Bell, a bartender at McAbe's Irish Pub, 302 12th St. W. "But at the same time, I can see the necessity of it.
"I not only work downtown, but I come here all the time with my girlfriends and if someone steals from me or assaults me, I would like to know that it was captured on video so the police can find out who did it."
Bell can attest to the some of the Main Street incidents she wishes had been captured on video. She's seen everything from fights to a man being thrown from a moving vehicle.
The general feeling on Old Main Street is that security cameras would be welcome. Several businesses on the street already have cameras outside their businesses, and McAbe's recently added two inside the bar.
Ardath Melton, a county employee who has come downtown to enjoy her lunch hour for years, was unaware portions of downtown were already being videotaped, and questioned the relevance of reviewing recorded footage.
"I don't mind them being there," said Melton. "But it doesn't make me feel any safer. Someone could still kill me, so it doesn't do me any good to have it on camera."
But the primary goal is to make downtown a better place for everyone, according to Gustafson.
"The whole goal is to better protect the community and be a good partner with the police department," he said.
The DDA contract with Rapid Security Solutions is being paid for through the organization's tax increment fund, where a portion of downtown property taxes goes into the TIF fund to reinvest back into the community.
Gustafson said the camera system has been discussed for several years and is the reason why additional conduit was buried when the Riverwalk was being constructed to save money when it came to time to install the cameras.
Mayor Wayne Poston said he supports any security measures that will bring added comfort to the city.
"We already know they are working but as much as anything else, the important thing is we continue to look at ways to make people feel secure," said Poston. "I'd like to see all four phases of this completed so that we makes sure there is even more coverage on Main Street, too. The message here is one of being a deterrent and to let people with bad intentions know that if they act on those intentions, we are going to see you do it."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him @urbanmark2014.