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LaGrange council considers adding dozens of new police cameras

The LaGrange City Council and LaGrange Police Department Chief Lou Dekmar discussed investing in dozens of new police cameras around town at the mayor and council retreat on Tuesday.

The 2020-21 city budget allocated $60,000 for police cameras, though the LPD has not yet spent that money.

The idea for the presentation, which Mayor Jim Thornton asked Dekmar to prepare, was for the LPD to create a plan for comprehensive camera coverage across the city, presenting what the department would do if money were no object.

“I personally think we need to cover the whole city with cameras, and I appreciate the comprehensive approach you’ve taken here,” Thornton told Dekmar.

Moving forward, LPD will work with City Manager Meg Kelsey to determine how many cameras would actually be bought and how the project would be financed. A more concrete proposal would be submitted to the council for approval at a later date.

Increasing camera coverage was first pitched during the budgeting process by council member Mark Mitchell, a retired Georgia state trooper.

Dekmar attested to their usefulness, referencing a gang-related homicide where the suspects had come from Mississippi. The only lead was a partial description of the car, which police then used to track the car as it left town and made its way back to Mississippi.

“Frequently, cameras are the sole lead that we have after a witness tells us ‘Well, I saw a gray car,’ or ‘I have a partial photograph,’ because then we can start going through the video that’s located throughout the city,” Dekmar told council members.

Dekmar identified 24 sites to place new cameras, most of them intersections. Police would like to have a camera at every place someone can exit the city, from major thoroughfares to back roads. Other sites were chosen based on requests from neighborhoods, service call data, as well as crime trends and history.

Two camera system options were presented — PlateSmart and Flock. Both systems are license plate recognition (LPR). The cameras record pictures of cars and their plates but do not photograph pedestrians. LPD already has LPR cameras at 12 intersections in the city.

Platesmart notifies police almost instantly when a wanted vehicle is spotted, Dekmar said, while Flock is not as immediate.

One proposal for Platesmart cameras would involve purchasing 62 cameras that would cost about $618,000, plus the cost of maintenance and replacing cameras periodically. LPD estimates the new Platesmart cameras would cost about $23,000 to maintain for the first two years.

Going with Flock, on the other hand, would involve leasing up to 65 cameras for a cost of about $162,000 per year for the new cameras. The city would not have to replace or maintain the cameras.

“There is funding available for this, if this was something the council felt strongly about,” Thornton said.

Dekmar recommended a mixed approach. Smaller, less busy roads could use Flock, with Platesmart used for busier intersections.

Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked if Hogansville and West Point could coordinate with LPD to buy their own cameras in a bulk order that may reduce the cost per camera.

Dekmar said he would speak with other police departments in the area to see if they are interested in collaborating.