City News

Say cheese: video cameras could soon be required at every convenience store in Madison

There are currently around 60 city surveillance cameras throughout downtown Madison.

Image By: Gina Heeb

In efforts to reduce crime in the city, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin proposed earlier this month requiring all local convenience stores to have surveillance cameras and keeping footage from them for about a month.

Under the proposal, local business owners would be required to install high-resolution cameras capable of producing images that could be used to identify people.

Cameras would be required in certain areas, including at the store’s counter and cash register area, near the entry and exit of the store and at all gas pumps. A certain level of lighting would also be mandated at stores, so the cameras are able to capture clear images.

The measure would enhance public safety and make it easier to arrest criminals in areas officials have identified as “hot spots,” according to Soglin. But some worry about what risk to privacy an expanding number of security cameras might pose to citizens.

“There are no reassurances on what these high resolution cameras can and cannot see,” Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, told the Isthmus last month. After hearing from concerned constituents, Zellers is working with the city’s IT department to make sure it’s “physically impossible for the cameras to visually intrude.”

While many convenience stores in Madison already have cameras, it is unclear how many currently line up with the new ordinance. Businesses owners who don’t comply would be subject to penalties and bail deposits.

The city wouldn’t have to pay for equipment or installation related to the cameras, but the Madison Police Department could incur indirect costs. With a greater number of cases in which police use video footage to identify suspects in a crime, MPD may have to purchase more equipment to store that data.

There are already around 800 cameras in place around Madison, according to city data. Officials have already made moves toward expanding the number of those — a city committee approved installing more than a dozen additional cameras around Madison in September. These 18 new ones allow footage to capture license plate numbers of moving vehicles.

City council members will vote on the proposal in coming months. If passed, it would take effect six months after adoption. 

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