A video camera can't replace a police officer, but it might let Modesto's law enforcement leaders plan their downtown presence more efficiently.
That's an argument likely to appear this week when the Modesto Police Department makes a long-awaited pitch to fund a new surveillance program for the city center.
The department wants about $388,000 to buy 10 cameras and equipment to monitor downtown around the clock, Lt. Ron Cloward said.
Modesto polices downtown on weekend nights with a detail of 10 or more officers. Some bars and club-goers have complained that their presence deters people from spending time downtown because a cluster of officers can give the impression that something bad has happened.
With the cameras, Cloward said, the department could assign officers elsewhere and call them downtown if a watch commander sees trouble brewing on the monitors.
"I don't know that it's going to actually cut officers," Cloward said. "But it's going to eliminate the issue where people see officers standing around at intersections."
The city spent nearly $500,000 policing the area last year. The officers who work there are paid overtime wages.
Cloward is scheduled to ask the Citizens Redevelopment Advisory Commission for money to buy the camera equipment.
The commission makes recommendations to the City Council on how to spend Modesto Redevelopment Agency property tax revenue. The council governs the agency under a separate authority.
A decline in tax revenue to the Police Department's budget from the city's general fund means its only option for getting the program up and running is from the Redevelopment Agency, Cloward said.
But the Police Department isn't the only city program turning to the Redevelopment Agency.
Commissioners this week are expected to be asked to begin repaying more than $20 million in loans the city gave to the agency in the 1980s and '90s to jump-start its work of attracting private investors to blighted neighborhoods. City Finance Director Wayne Padilla has suggested the agency begin by paying $500,000 this year.
Commissioners also are scheduled to see a plan to pay for the enforcement of Modesto's new mobile home rent control ordinance at a cost of about $54,800.
The Redevelopment Agency is expected to collect $5.7 million in property taxes this year; about $4 million of that goes to debt, and $1.1 million is reserved for affordable housing. The agency also has some money set aside for general projects from previous years.
Councilman Will O'Bryant, who has pushed to get cameras downtown for more than a year, said it's appropriate to pay for them from the Redevelopment Agency.
"We haven't tapped that fund for a long time," he said.
O'Bryant and Councilwoman Kristin Olsen saw a similar monitoring system in Ripon last year and came away eager to create one in Modesto.
Modesto has one security camera downtown and several in its parking garages. Cloward said none of them provide images that are clear enough to suit the department's needs at night. The outdoor camera, for example, didn't provide clear images to help the department sort out what happened when a crowd got out of control outside a 10th Street club on Labor Day weekend in 2006.
Gary Cook, Modesto's top information technology supervisor, said the city has not identified a vendor to supply the camera system, but it compared several options to reach the estimate going to the redevelopment advisory commissioners.
The Citizens Redevelopment Advisory Commission will meet at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room 3555 at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.