MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A review of Memphis' SkyCop surveillance cameras shows most are guarding either the city's prized downtown developments or its wealthiest East Memphis neighborhoods, according to data provided by the city.
The city is trying to address the situation through a new program to better distribute the cameras among city council districts, The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/2a0ScJy) reported.
According to data provided by the Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, the city has for years accepted camera grants and donations from businesses and agencies, and more recently neighborhoods, with the understanding that the cameras be placed where donors want them. That's even though taxpayer dollars cover the cameras' annual cost of about $42,000 a year.
But as cameras became more popular in a city worried about public safety and a soaring murder rate, the pay-to-play arrangement meant neighborhoods able to raise money received more city-subsidized security.
Meanwhile, the poorer neighborhoods of Memphis — often the neighborhoods that need the pole-mounted cameras the most — were left on the sidelines.
Hazel Moore wishes one of the cameras had been watching when she was shoved to the ground by a mugger in 2015. Fearing for her life, she asked her attacker to take her purse.
The robber was later caught, but if he hadn't been, a surveillance camera could have provided clues to his capture. Or perhaps one of the "eyes in the sky" would have pre-empted the crime.
But of the city's 136 cameras, only one is currently stationed in the area where Moore lives.
Martavius Jones, whose council super district includes Whitehaven and South Memphis, said the data showed that the city and council needed to "do better."
"I think it's the city not making data-driven decisions," he said. "It's the city responding to the most vocal and those who have the greatest means."
Meanwhile, East Memphis has 21 cameras, all in residential areas and almost all paid for by neighborhood associations, while downtown, including Mud Island, has 72 cameras.
Many of the downtown cameras are near the FedExForum, Beale Street and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and were funded by Homeland Security grants.
Together, downtown and East Memphis have 94 of the 136 cameras (69.1 percent), and 35 of 49 cameras in residential areas (71 percent), city camera data shows.
Memphis Police Information Technologies Deputy Chief Jim Harvey, who retired this month, said there's a simple explanation for why poorer areas with predominantly black residents have fewer cameras: The city doesn't have the money to buy them cameras.
"The city doesn't have funding to blanket the city with cameras," Harvey said. "When you use grants to buy cameras, you have to put them out there. The city wanted to make sure that tourists and citizens could come downtown and be covered by camera systems, and make them feel safer when they were downtown."