CCTV cameras in a corridor outside bedroom accommodation at the Hope Hostel in Kigali, Rwanda, where migrants will stay after arriving from the UK on a deportation flight. Picture date: Thursday June 16, 2022. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Business leaders in Montgomery County are supporting a bill proposed by the County Council that would provide financial incentives to businesses and individuals for installing security cameras. The goal of the legislation is to deter crime, which has been on the rise throughout the county in recent months.

The bill, which was introduced June 14, would create a program within the Montgomery County Department of Police that would allow businesses or individuals to apply for a voucher or rebate to help with the cost of installing a security camera system at their properties. Each property would have to be in a designated “priority area” that is experiencing “relatively high incidences of crime,” according to the text of the bill.

Asked about what criteria would be used to determine the priority areas, county police spokeswoman Shiera Goff referred questions to County Council Member and lead sponsor Craig Rice’s office.

The police chief would be required to report to the council each year on the effectiveness of the program and how many vouchers and rebates have been handed out, according to the bill.

Allie Williams, the president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, told Bethesda Beat last week that after incidents such as an armed carjacking at a downtown Bethesda parking garage this month and other increases in crime throughout Bethesda and Friendship Heights, the chamber would support anything that would benefit the police.

“Whether the data will include those areas [Bethesda and Friendship Heights], we don’t know,” he said. “And we would hope those businesses would have the opportunity to put up cameras to protect their own property, [and] to really benefit the police department in capturing or giving information to the police to help them find the culprits.”

Williams said he plans to discuss the crime increase with Police Chief Marcus Jones and Second District Commander Sean Gagen and to share information with the business community. Bethesda and Friendship Heights are among the communities that the Second District includes.

“It’s brazen and very disheartening to think that this happens right in downtown Bethesda,” he said.

Williams added that he hopes the cameras could serve as a deterrent for criminals, similar to a house alarm.

Tom Merkel, who owns Bradley Food and Beverage on Arlington Road, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that he also thinks the cameras could deter criminals.

“With more and more crime, nothing wrong with some extra security,” he wrote.

Jane Redicker, the president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, told Bethesda Beat last week that the camera program is a good idea. Some businesses in downtown Silver Spring have already invested in security cameras, she said.

“It’s like, ‘What about us?’ Can we get reimbursed what we already [spent],” she said of other business owners.

Redicker said in the past police have applauded businesses for installing security cameras, but sometimes their cameras weren’t recording or the footage got erased, making them less effective when crimes happen.

“More common is that someone would have a camera, and they simply don’t have the staff to look and see [if something happened],” she said.

County police have set up mobile security cameras in Silver Spring that can be moved to locations where violent crime has been high, Redicker said. Asked whether the county’s proposed security camera incentive program would reduce crime, she said it depends on how obvious the cameras are in terms of their visibility.

“It depends on whether criminals know that it’s there. We do know that the mobile cameras that they’ve set up in Silver Spring seem to have become a deterrent,” she said.

The District of Columbia established a security camera incentives program in 2016 that allows people to apply for a rebate of up to $200 per camera, for a maximum rebate of $500 per residential property, or a maximum of $750 per non-residential property, according to the website. Separately, D.C. also has a camera voucher program, in which owners and tenants of residential properties may receive a free camera system. To qualify, participants in the voucher program must receive public assistance from the government such as general assistance for children, emergency shelter family services and interim disability assistance, among others.

An analysis by DCist in 2020 found that more than 18,000 cameras had been funded through the rebate and voucher programs during the first four years of the program, but that they were disproportionately spread throughout the city. The analysis found that only 15% of the rebates and vouchers issued were for properties in the areas of the city hardest hit by violent crime.

In Montgomery County, rebates and vouchers would not exceed the purchase cost of a security camera and regulations would need to be developed to implement the program, according to Sonya Healy, a spokeswoman for the County Council.

Kristin Trible, the deputy chief of staff to Rice, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat that no money has been appropriated for the legislation.

“Once the police chief determines the parameters and specifics of the program, we are hopeful that state or federal grant funding will be available to support the program,” she wrote.

Trible added that the specific amounts for the rebates or vouchers would be determined by the police department and might be based on D.C.’s security camera program, which the department plans to use as a model.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

Dan Schere

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com.