Downtown Chandler business representatives have erected video cameras in the historic square, in part to deter day laborers from congregating there, and city officials are not happy about it.
"I know that we had concerns about it. We told them point blank it could not be on public property," said Teri Killgore, Chandler's downtown redevelopment manager.
The cameras sit on a dirt lot on the northeast corner of Arizona Avenue and Buffalo Street, just north of Dr. A.J. Chandler Park. The land is owned by Niels Kreipke, president of the downtown-based Desert Viking development firm.
Kreipke also serves on the executive committee of the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership. The DCCP is a group of merchants who banded together to help promote and beautify the Downtown Chandler area.
About 48 percent of the partnership's $266,000 budget comes from the city, Killgore said.
Eileen Brill Wagner, the organization's executive director, said the group is leasing the video cameras from ProGuard Security Services, a private company with offices in Phoenix, Tucson and Dallas. The cameras were installed about six weeks ago as part of a three-month trial period to see whether they would deter drivers from stopping and picking up day laborers downtown.
The cameras appear to have had some effect, Wagner said.
"We were having some problems with cars stopping illegally there," she said. "There are fewer cars stopping."
It has not deterred day laborers from congregating downtown, however. On Tuesday afternoon, about two dozen men shaded themselves under the park's trees. Roughly half of them were standing immediately across the street from the cameras.
City officials have said none of the local loitering laws gives the city the authority to disperse day laborers. But portions of Arizona Avenue have been made off-limits to parking or standing vehicles during certain times of the day in an effort to discourage vehicles from stopping to pick them up, thereby blocking traffic and creating a safety hazard.
Officials have said the preferred method for day laborers to meet with potential employees is through the Light & Life Day Labor Center, at Fairview Street and Arizona Avenue, behind the Light & Life Free Methodist Church. The privately run center, open from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily, is designed to be a hub where the transactions can happen away from the street.
Leah Powell, the city's diversity director, said the Chandler Police Department monitors drivers stopping illegally in the downtown area to pick up day laborers. The video cameras are unwarranted, she said.
"From the city's standpoint, that's not something we would have chosen to do," Powell said.
Colleen LeBlanc, ProGuard vice president, said that despite the red and blue lights sitting atop the camera structure, the surveillance is not related to any law enforcement agency. The cameras meet Arizona Department of Public Safety guidelines, LeBlanc said.
Killgore said if the blue and red lights are creating the perception that the cameras are associated with law enforcement, city officials might need to address the issue.
When the DCCP approached the city with the idea, city officials pre-emptively rejected any proposal to place video cameras on public property, she said.
"It's not our favorite idea ever," Killgore said. "We felt like it would come across as 'Big Brother.'"
Even so, city officials did not object to the three-month trial period, as long as the installation was placed on private property, she said. Although the city supplies much of the DCCP's budget, there are no plans to adjust the city's contributions because of the cameras, she said.
"We're trying to allow the district some autonomy," Killgore said.
Kreipke, who provided the land and the $1,400 installation fee, said the DCCP pays about $650 per month to lease the system. Although the camera structure contains the phrase "live monitoring," it just records video, he said.
"The videos have not been shared with police or anybody with the city," Kreipke said.
Deterring day laborers isn't the sole purpose of the cameras, he said. The tapes also are being used to gather information on traffic and parking to help with downtown planning, he said.
"It's just there to monitor the whole area, just so we can learn from it and see what we need to adjust," Kreipke said. "It's a temporary impact study of what's happening in that area."
The trial period is also meant to test whether the cameras might have a deterrent effect on crime in the downtown, as well as to create a sense of safety, he said.
Kreipke said a review of the tapes hasn't turned up any major problems in the downtown area, meaning the cameras either are deterring crime successfully or the perception that the downtown is unsafe is unfounded.
"I think it's been a positive exercise," he said. "There are things we can learn from it."